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Targeting DeSantis, Trump team warns state parties that super PACs can’t act as an arm of a campaign

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign is seeking to blunt the efforts of a super PAC supporting rival Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign by sending a letter to all state Republican parties on Thursday arguing that they cannot work with a super PAC as if it is representing a candidate.

David Warrington, an attorney for Trump’s 2024 campaign, contends in the letter that a super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, should not be allowed to undertake traditional campaign activities that directly benefit a candidate or “act as de facto campaign arms.”

While the letter does not specifically cite the well-funded Never Back Down organization, it’s aimed at the super PAC, which has been taking on an expansive role supplementing DeSantis’ campaign, such as helping voters fill out cards pledging to support him in Iowa’s caucuses and hosting the governor as a “special guest” on multi-city bus tours.

The letter is the latest example of the efforts by Trump, the early frontrunner in the crowded GOP primary, to use his influence across state Republican parties to solidify his position. He has also been particularly aggressive in encouraging the parties to advance rules that favor him in the process of selecting delegations that will ultimately decide the GOP nominee next year.

Trump’s campaign said in a statement Thursday that it has received questions from some state parties and Republican voters “who are worried that the process will be hijacked by outside entities that would put the integrity of their party process and rules in jeopardy and that individual Republican voters in their state will have their votes diluted by non-party actors such as superPACs.”

Erin Perrine, a spokesperson for Never Back Down, said in a statement that “it’s abundantly clear that the former President and his campaign are terrified of Governor DeSantis and the Never Back Down movement behind his candidacy. Never Back Down will continue to do everything within the confines of the law to achieve our goal of retiring the former president.”

DeSantis’ campaign, which is facing a financial crunch, has repeatedly said it is taking advantage of offers to have him appear as a guest at Never Back Down events as part of its efforts to make the most of its resources. DeSantis also this week announced his new deputy campaign manager will be David Polyansky, a strategist who had been advising Never Back Down.

The relationship was on full display Thursday as DeSantis and his wife were set to appear in Coralville, Iowa as the special guests of the super PAC, traveling on a Never Back Down-branded bus.

“We will continue to follow the law as we maximize our resources to bring Ron DeSantis’ message to reverse the decline of this country and lead our Great American Comeback to as many voters as possible,” Andrew Romeo, the DeSantis’ campaign communications director, said in a statement.

Trump, from his earliest days in the White House, has worked to expand his grip on the state parties. He’s spent years helping allies win positions in the party, including chairmanships, and his political team has worked to rewrite the rules around delegates.

His broad popularity in the GOP also makes him a big draw for parties as they seek to raise funds, as he did on Friday when his keynote speech at an Alabama Republican Party dinner brought in $1.2 million in contributions—a record for the party.

Trump’s campaign declined to cite any specific states or activities where it feels there have been violations of election law, but said, “It is common knowledge that a number of the lower-tiered campaigns, like the DeSantis campaign, have been unable to raise campaign funds and as a result have tried to outsource their campaigns to superPACs.”

The letter warns that in addition to any penalties under federal law that a candidate or super PAC could face for violating rules about illegal coordination, state parties that facilitate those activities could themselves face civil or criminal penalties.

“It’s just generally saber-rattling and it’s overly broad in parts and a little heavy handed. But it’s basically a fair general description of the law,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer who has advised Republicans and Democrats and reviewed a copy of the letter.

Kappel said rules around illegal coordination are narrow and would need to involve something like a state party working with a super PAC to send communications to the public supporting or opposing a candidate.

He said a super PAC that is acting independently of a campaign is perfectly free to “speak on behalf of” the candidate they are supporting but cannot hold themselves out as authorized or official representatives of a candidate.

Warrington’s letter also seeks to discourage any state party from allowing a super PAC to play a role in the process of recruiting people to serve as the delegates who formally select the nominee at the party’s national convention.

Campaigns typically want supporters serving as delegates to ensure they have secured the party’s nomination and avoid any rules changes at a nominating convention that are not in their favor.

“Allowing super PACs to interject themselves into this process dilutes the relationship between the voters and the candidates themselves,” Warrington wrote in the letter.

Perrine did not respond to a question Thursday about whether Never Back Down is involved in the delegate process.

Kappel said a super PAC can work to recruit people to serve as the delegates choosing a party’s nominee as long as they’re doing it independently of a campaign.

Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

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