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Cain the candidate or Cain the super PAC-man?

Herman Cain creates outside spending group while still on Florida ballot

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Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain glances up as he speaks at the Congressional Health Caucus Thought Leaders Series in Washington.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Herman Cain, barely two weeks after suspending his presidential bid, founded his own super PAC called Cain Connections.

The problem is that Herman Cain may — by the letter of the law — still be an active presidential candidate.

“Suspending” one’s campaign means nothing legally to the Federal Election Commission, according to the agency. Cain has not filed to terminate his campaign committee with the FEC, nor has he publicly announced the definitive end of his campaign.

In fact, he was on Tuesday's Florida primary ballot.

Nine days after Cain Connections’ inception, it had its first contribution — $50,000 from real estate magnate and former New York Post publisher Peter Kalikow. Super PACs, which cannot spend money in coordination with a particular candidate’s campaign, can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions.

But because Cain himself is running the super PAC, some questions of legality arise.

Paul Ryan, at the Campaign Legal Center, said that if Herman Cain is indeed still an active candidate, Cain Connections’ acceptance of the $50,000 contribution would be a violation of campaign finance law.

That $50,000 contribution to his super PAC could be seen as a $50,000 contribution to Cain’s campaign. The legal limit is $2,500 per candidate per election.

The problem, aside from Cain’s uncertain status as a candidate, is the fact that the FEC has yet to establish comprehensive rules regulating super PACs, which have only been around since 2010’s Citizens United and Speech Now court cases.

“This activity of forming a super PAC really highlights the ambiguity in the law,” Ryan said. “If I were advising Herman Cain as his attorney, I would have strongly suggested he seek an advisory meeting with the FEC.”

Cain’s office and Cain Connections did not respond to a request for comment.

The FEC refused to comment on the record and referred the Center to Public Integrity to Ryan.

The FEC does have a rule prohibiting a super PAC from coordinating spending with the candidate it is promoting, though it isn't strongly enforced.

This means that Cain, the director of the super PAC, could not legally coordinate spending with Cain the candidate.

For his part, Cain has said his super PAC will focus on solutions, not candidates — what he calls a “solutions revolution.”

Even though Cain endorsed Newt Gingrich over the weekend, he told radio host Neal Boortz Jan. 4 that Cain Connections would not be promoting any particular candidate.

“My super PAC, cainconnections.com, is going to be solutions-specific, not candidate-specific,” Cain told Boortz (jump to 8:28).

The Cain Connections website promotes Cain’s signature 9-9-9 tax plan, energy independence, regulatory reform and other hallmarks of his presidential campaign.

Cain Connections’ treasurer Anthony Holm is a former advisor to Rick Perry’s gubernatorial campaign and spokesman for homebuilder Bob Perry, one of the GOP’s top contributors.