How cozy can candidates be with political groups?

The criminal investigation into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s collaboration with independent political groups has been making national headlines, but in certain other states, such a relationship would barely raise an eyebrow.

Prosecutors in multiple counties have been investigating whether Walker, a potential GOP presidential candidate, illegally coordinated with a slew of independent conservative nonprofits leading up to 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

Laws vary widely when it comes to how tight candidates can be with political backers — what’s OK in one state may not be OK in another.  In Florida and Michigan, for example, candidates and supposedly independent groups seemingly work hand in hand, while Connecticut and Minnesota recently affirmed that such groups must keep their distance.

Meanwhile, federal office seekers operate under an entirely different set of rules that even regulators can’t agree on.

As a result, candidates stand to benefit from vast pots of money beyond what they can raise for their own campaigns. Contribution limits, meant to curb the influence of donors, can become almost meaningless as special interests spend millions of dollars to benefit a campaign.

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This story also ran on and in MinnPost.

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