Pay attention to the fine print and you’ll see that some of the online messages touting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are paid for by "Hillary for America," while others are sponsored by the "Hillary Victory Fund."
How powerful is this two-word change? It means the difference between ads funded by donors who may legally give Clinton up to $2,700 — or by those who may give hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Joint fundraising committees, often called "victory funds," are not new in federal politics. Candidates routinely raise money through these collaborative operations that, by design, split the funds they collect among a number of beneficiaries, such as national and state party committees, as well as the candidate’s own campaign.
But instead of just transferring its cash to the signatories of the joint fundraising agreement, the Clinton campaign is also using a significant amount of the money the Hillary Victory Fund collects to finance pro-Clinton advertising.
This is innovative, to say the least. But it’s also worrisome to campaign finance reformers who see it as a way to shift costs onto groups funded by big donors, thereby evading campaign contribution limits.
And in that respect, critics see Clinton’s big-money operation as a way for well-heeled donors to better access and influence the woman who may be the next president of the United States.
Larry Noble, general counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for stricter campaign finance regulations, told the Center for Public Integrity that Clinton’s team had taken the interpretation of a joint fundraising committee "to another level."
Videos produced by the Hillary Victory Fund, and appearing online on websites like YouTube and Twitter, "are basically campaign ads," Noble said. "This is a problem."
Democratic operatives, however, argue that Clinton and her party allies should use all available financial weapons to fight Republicans.
Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, told the Center for Public Integrity that online videos help "give people a reason to donate" to the Hillary Victory Fund, which he called "critical to funding the coordinated campaigns that are helping elect Democrats up and down the ballot."
Chris Zubak-Skees contributed to this report.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.