Romney-Gingrich Super PAC Spat Highlights Hazy Rules

Romney-Gingrich Super PAC Spat Highlights Hazy Rules

By Scott Conroy - December 21, 2011

A day after he condemned current campaign finance regulations for making "a mockery of our political campaign season," Mitt Romney appeared to change his tune on Wednesday morning after Newt Gingrich publicly called on him to disavow a negative ad campaign being run by an outside group promoting Romney's candidacy.

"This is politics," Romney said on Fox News. "If you can't stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until Obama comes after you with a Hell's Kitchen."

Romney’s latest jab at Gingrich comes amid a series of heated exchanges between the two camps and highlights the murkiness of the laws that govern campaigns’ relationships with the super PACs they established to support their candidacies.

Restore Our Future -- which is allowed to accept unlimited contributions and is being run by Romney’s former aides -- has been blanketing Iowa’s airwaves with negative TV ads targeting Gingrich, spending over $700,000 this week alone in the nation’s first voting state, according to National Journal.

The ads appear to be having an effect in conjunction with other anti-Gingrich spots aired by the Rick Perry and Ron Paul camps, as the former House speaker has lost his lead in recent Iowa polls.

During a campaign stop in the southeast Iowa town of Oskaloosa on Wednesday, Gingrich challenged Romney to ask publicly that Restore Our Future ease its negative advertising blitz.

“We ought to understand these are his people, running his ads, doing his dirty work while he pretends to be above it,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich has vowed to condemn and disassociate himself from any negative advertising that an outside group produces on his behalf.

However, a pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, recently hired former Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler as its chief strategist, and Tyler told the Washington Post that his group plans to air ads contrasting Gingrich’s record with those of his opponents.

On Wednesday, Romney backed down from an earlier comment in which he said he could go to jail if he communicated with the super PAC “in any way, shape, or form.” He now concedes that he could ask the group to take down the negative ads without risking prosecution.

Campaign finance experts had pounced on Romney’s suggestion that he was barred from requesting that Restore Our Future stop its negative campaigning or encouraging his supporters not to donate to the group.

“Romney’s comment itself is absurd,” said Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that analyzes election law and promotes transparency. “I think Mitt Romney has engaged in a lot of hyperbole when he implies or explicitly states that he can be criminally prosecuted for coordinating in any way with a super PAC. That’s just not the case under the law.”

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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