Karen Handel is running for Congress, but she said she didn't have anything to do with a recent fundraising letter that claims she aims to "end Muslim immigration."
Handel's campaign said she supports aggressive, legal and constitutional means to secure the country's borders. But she doesn't support a religious litmus test for immigration. The letter was sent out by Save the American Way, a Denver-based political action committee. Handal, her campaign said, had no knowledge of it.
Michael Kang, who teaches election law at Emory University, said there is little oversight of how PACs operate.
"It's sort of out of the control of the candidate and the candidate's people," Kang said. "So they often don't like it because it leads to sloppy messaging at best and at worst it makes the campaign look like it's involved in some sort of scam."
He said since the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC, which loosened campaign finance regulations, there's evidence of an increasing problem of PACs raising money that doesn't end up benefiting a political campaign. The donations are often spent on overhead rather than advertising for the candidate.
"These groups can pop up really quickly," Kang said. "They don't necessarily have a history, so unless you're an insider and you know kind of what the plan is for the candidate, you don't know if this is just some outlaw group that is just acting on its own and what their intentions are."
He said for now, beyond individual candidates bringing lawsuits, there’s no serious regulatory attention being paid to the issue. Fraud is a difficult thing to prove in these cases.
“As a general matter, if you’re running a committee, and you’re raising money subject to the rules, then you’re allowed to use that money within some pretty broad discretion,” Kang said.
Handel is one of 18 candidates running to replace former U.S. Rep. Tom Price, who is now U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.