Two super PACs and one massive loophole work against Charlie Rangel’s re-election

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Charlie Rangel in his Harlem office. (Reid Pillifant)
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An out-of-state anti-incumbent super PAC that's currently targeting Charlie Rangel won't be showing up in many FEC reports.

A spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability told me that the organization will mostly be routing its Rangel-related expenditures through its affiliated nonprofit organization, The Alliance for Self Governance.

"We're using our voter education arm here," said the spokesman, Curtis Ellis. "Because this is a June primary, the first one in 40 years, a lot of people don't even know there's a primary, don't even know this is where there vote counts, so that's where our efforts are going."

The "voter education arm" of the group, which is supporting State Senator Adriano Espaillat in the multicandidate primary for Rangel's seat, has essentially the same mission as the PAC—to oust congressional incumbents of both parties—and it lists the same founders, Eric O'Keefe and Leo Linbeck III. But the difference is more than just semantic.

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As a 501(c)4 organization, the nonprofit side of the organization is governed by an entirely different set of rules. Nonprofits can raise and spend without disclosing any donors or expenditures, as long as their primary purpose is technically non-political. (What exactly "non-political" means is an ongoing debate. The chief counsel for the Obama re-election campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission yesterday arguing that the nonprofit arm of Karl Rove's super PAC is obviously a "political committee," and should therefore be subject to disclosure requirements.) 

Given those rules, it's impossible to tell how much the group is actually spending against Rangel.

Ellis backpedaled a bit on his previous assertion that the group would spend "six figures" to unseat Rangel.

"I may have said that, judging by our past races, we have spent six figures in past races," he said. "That's what we have spent in races past."

The Alliance has set up a website, TheRangelRecord.com, and Ellis did disclose that the group's efforts will be mostly online, and probably won't include any direct mail pieces. 

"To my knowledge, we're not doing any mail, we're leaving that to the other super PAC," said Ellis.

Separately, another super PAC, called Campaign for Our Future, is backing another Rangel challenger, Clyde Williams, against Rangel. The group recently released a direct mail piece attacking Rangel. 

Rangel, for his part, has attempted to leverage the groups' opposition for fund-raising. In an email to supporters this morning he singled out one of the pro-Clyde supporters, Reggie Van Lee, for his $75,000 contribution to the group.

"[H]ere’s the real kicker: he’s not even from New York," Rangel wrote in the email. "He’s originally from Houston, Texas. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think one rich man from Houston should swing an election in my hometown."

(Van Lee has won numerous awards for his local community service and philanthropy.)

Rangel has regularly cast the Campaign for Primary Accountability as a band of Texas-based Tea Partiers too.

"Charlie Rangel can call us what he wants," said Ellis, who also said that Rangel "has been saying a lot of goofy things lately."

The super PACs have been raising off him too.

Despite its modest investment in the race, the Campaign for Primary Accountability has sent several emails to supporters touting its targeting of Rangel.

I asked Ellis if he could tell me anything about the bigger donors who are funding the non-profit part of the organization.

"No," he said.