A legion of zombie super PACs — they exist on paper but barely engage in politics, if at all — face "administrative termination" by federal regulators for failing to file mandatory financial disclosures, top Federal Election Commission officials today told the Center for Public Integrity.
Such action could affect dozens, even hundreds, of federally registered super PACs found to be delinquent with their reporting.
FEC officials have begun mailing these committees letters that warn they must file "immediately" or risk "civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action."
In interviews today, FEC Chairman Lee Goodman, a Republican, and Vice Chairman Ann Ravel, a Democrat, said the agency would also seek to dispatch super PACs that disregard disclosure rules.
"We expect people to follow the rules and carry out their PAC filing obligations," Goodman said. "If not, these committees will become candidates for administrative termination."
Goodman added that just as it is relatively easy to form a political committee, it's also simple to disband one. He encouraged PAC leaders whose committees are no longer active to inform the FEC they want to formally call it quits.
The FEC, after all, finds itself severely shorthanded in its Reports Analysis Division, which is tasked with reviewing political committees' disclosures for accuracy and legality. Goodman recently estimated the division is saddled with a 21-week paperwork backlog.
Among the generally unknown lot of deadbeat super PACs receiving FEC warning letters are those with grandiose goals, such as "Americans for Freedom and Progress," issues with ambiguity, such as "Americans for Solutions," and snarky senses of humor, such as "Americans Against Americans who Do Not Recycle and Misspell Bengazi."
In these, as in most cases, the super PACs have little or no money to their name or simply never filed required federal disclosures after registering with the FEC to become a super PAC.
But a few outfits now under FEC scrutiny once grabbed headlines and actively raised and spent money, including the 9-9-9 Fund, a super PAC that formed in 2011 to bolster the presidential campaign of Republican Herman Cain. It previously reported raising about $62,000 during the second half of 2011, when Cain's political star quickly waxed, then waned, then fizzled altogether.
The super PAC has yet to file a financial disclosure covering July through September last year, the FEC contends.
As of today, the FEC has 750 formally registered super PACs on the books. Super PACs may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates. This differentiates them from traditional PACs, which may donate limited amounts of money directly to political candidates and committees but may only raise limited amounts of money from individuals and other PACs.
This is not the first time the FEC has considered a mass purge of seemingly defunct political committees.
During 2012, for example, the FEC axed 61 PACs and super PACs created by an eccentric Floridian named Josue Larose, who for years has habitually created federal- and state-level political committees that ultimately raise and spend no money and routinely violate disclosure laws.
Curiously, a number of political committees now under FEC scrutiny are listed as being led by a "James Lincoln" of Florida, who uses similar naming conventions to those employed by Larose.
For both men, most of their committees' formal names end with the words "Super Pac" or "Federal Pac," with the acronym "PAC" containing lowercase letters — uncommon among all PACs.
And instead of basing his super PACs from a post office box in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as Larose did, Lincoln bases his at a post office box in Boca Raton, Fla., federal records show.
Neither Lincoln nor Larose could be reached for comment.