Former TN political operative pleas guilty to illegal campaign finance activity in Virginia

A former Knox County political operative, now living in Virginia and often quoted on national political talk shows, has pleaded guilty to illegally directing a political action committee to buy ads to help a congressional candidate whose campaign he managed. The Washington Post reports this is a rare enforcement of federal law that bars candidates from spending money in conjunction with their independent allies.

Excerpt from the Post story:

Federal authorities said the plea deal reached with 34-year-old Tyler Harber — who managed the unsuccessful 2012 congressional campaign of Virginia Republican Chris Perkins — sends a warning to those in politics that they need to keep a separation between candidates and outside groups. Prosecutors hailed the case as the “first criminal prosecution in the United States based upon the coordination of campaign contributions between political committees,” and four legal experts said they could think of no other examples, despite an explosion of spending by independent groups on political races in recent years.

“The prudent course here is for candidates and campaign managers to take it as a signal,” said Tony Herman, a former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission who is now in private practice at Covington & Burling. “I do think it should be taken as a message to them to redouble their efforts to make sure they’re not running afoul of the coordination prohibitions in the Federal Election Campaign Act.”

Coordination among candidates and independent organizations has been illegal for decades, but in recent years, the boundary between campaigns and their big-money allies has blurred. That’s in part because of the surge of spending by outside groups since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts independently on political campaigns.

Advocates for tougher enforcement of campaign finance rules say the increased interplay between candidates and their big-money allies has undermined contribution limits. Candidates for federal office can accept individual donations of up to $2,700 per election, while super PACs and advocacy groups can take unlimited money from individuals and corporations.

Note: Harber worked in Knox County for former county Mayor Mike Ragsdale and resigned amid controversy in 2005. At the time, an investigation was underway into the apparent illegal accessing of a Knox County Republican chairman’s personal emails and distribution of those emails. A News Sentinel story at the time of his resignation is HERE.