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Center report prompts request for FEC hearing on super PACs

Harvard law professor starts petition drive

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Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig* and his campaign finance reform organization, Rootstrikers, are today calling on Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub to conduct a public hearing on super PAC regulation.

Rootstrikers says the request, and related petition, were prompted by a Center for Public Integrity article Saturday by Michael Beckel that quotes Weintraub as saying super PACs that support a single candidate may have more of a corrupting influence on the political process than super PACs that support multiple candidates.

"I would probably define corruption a little more broadly than the Supreme Court does,"  Weintraub said at a forum Friday at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

The high court considers spending by outside groups, independent of candidates, to be less of a corruption risk than unregulated direct contributions to candidates.

In his letter to Weintraub, a Democratic appointee, Lessig tells her that she "gave this country some much needed hope" with her comments, but added that "hope is not enough."

Lessig is also calling on the commission to consider issues such as whether super PACs may be run by a supported candidates' former staffers or family members and whether candidates may raise funds on behalf of a super PAC.

Read the full letter here.

(Update: 3:34 p.m.) Weintraub tells the Center she'd "be happy to hold a hearing" on super PACs. She wouldn't speculate on the timing of such a hearing, but said sooner would be better.

And while a hearing might help the often fractious FEC institute rulemaking surrounding the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision and the subsequent federal SpeechNow.org decision, Weintraub said campaign reformers' expectations should be reasonable.

"I am bound by what the Supreme Court said. I'm not in a position to disregard the Supreme Court — I'm well aware of my place in this universe," she said. "But we are better informed now about how [super PACs] work than even the courts were when they ruled."

The issue of single-candidate super PACs in particular is "a topic that really deserves our consideration" as far as potential FEC rulemaking is concerned, Weintraub added.

*The Center for Public Integrity receives funding through an arrangement with Harvard University, facilitated by Lessig.