Freedom’s Watch Broke Law, Dems Tell FEC

Conservative advocacy group Freedom’s Watch illegally ran advertising in coordination with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Democratic officials charge in a lawsuit they plan to file today with the Federal Election Commission, the Washington Post reports:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising and campaign arm for House Democrats, alleges that the script for a television ad purchased by Freedom’s Watch, an independent conservative political committee, can be traced to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Federal election laws prohibit the independent group from coordinating its efforts with the NRCC, the campaign arm of House Republicans, or any political candidate.

The Democratic officials said the advertising script carried an electronic identifier that shows it originated in the Republican committee.

“Freedom’s Watch is coming to the NRCC’s rescue. The problem is that they’re doing it illegally,” said DCCC Executive Director Brian Wolff, adding that the group’s “own document clearly shows that the script of their ad came from the NRCC.” …

Patrick McCarthy, the media consultant who wrote the Cazayoux ad for Freedom’s Watch, said an innocent mistake caused the document to appear as if it came from the NRCC. McCarthy, who did consulting work for the NRCC for six years, said he pulled up an old ad template from his NRCC days and wrote the Louisiana ad script over it, then saved the file and sent it to the TV stations.

“It’s absurd on the face of it. They’re grasping at straws if they’re saying recycling an old Word document is illegal,” said McCarthy, who now works at Designated Market Media.

Confusion over where the NRCC ends and Freedom’s Watch begins is not surprising. Freedom’s Watch recently announced that it had hired veteran former NRCC operative Carl Forti as its executive vice president to oversee the group’s 2008 issue advocacy efforts. Similarly, Freedom’s Watch’s vice president for communications Ed Patru is a former NRCC communications officer.

As Mother Jones recently reported, it’s not only Democrats who have a gripe with Freedom’s Watch. Conservative think tankers and Republican activists have also been grumbling about fumbling and lack of direction by the group, which is largely funded by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Freedom’s Watch is “late to the game and they need to recognize that,” one conservative think tank hand said. “Freedom’s Watch is not entirely ineffective, but they are not well organized or maximizing their impact.”

Whether the ad campaign Freedom’s Watch is running in a Louisiana special Congressional election was coordinated illegally with the NRCC or was, as its consultant McCarthy says, an innocent mistake, is for the FEC to determine. But it could show that with a new high-powered Republican operative team in place, Freedom’s Watch is determined to challenge such insider criticism and play rapid catch up in the 2008 election race.