April 8, 2014

Last Week at the FEC: Agreement on Dormant Funds But Confrontation over Enforcement

Holland & Knight Eyes on Washington Blog
Andy Emerson

Last week the Federal Election Commission held an executive session on April 1 and an open meeting on April 3. It adopted a revised Advisory Opinion regarding the use of dormant funds by the Solano County Democratic Central Committee, delayed its consideration of Make Your Law PAC's request regarding bitcoins, and released AOR 2014-03, in which Lindsey for Congress, Inc. request clarification regarding the use of campaign funds to pay for public communications in support of both a federal candidate and state candidates. 

Further the Commission announced that it was considering the impact of the Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel and Commissioner Ellen L. Weintraub issued a Statement voicing concern regarding the Court's decision, but lauding the Court's focus on transparency. The Commission also released a new contribution limits chart indicating that aggregate limits will no longer be enforced.  This blog discussed the Court's decision early last week.

The Commission also made public ten (10) closed enforcement cases, only one of which resulted in prosecution of a respondent.

Bank Records Enough to Satisfy Best Effort Requirement for Dormant Funds

The Commission issued an Advisory Opinion finding that the Solano County Democratic Central may use funds remaining in a bank account associated with a former committee of the County Democratic Party that was closed administratively by the Commission in 2005. 

As this blog discussed in late February, the Commission's initial draft would have found that the Solano County Democratic Central Committee could not use the funds because it could not prove that the funds complied with the source prohibition and contribution limits imposed by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).  However, following the receipt of additional information regarding the source of contributions to the dormant account held by the Committee, a 5-1 majority of the Commission adopted a contrary opinion allowing for transfer of the funds to the Committee's current federal account. 

Although Commissioner Ellen Weintraub expressed concern that the Committee's records were insufficient, and indicated that the account in question may have received impermissible funds, the remaining five Commissioners determined that it was "in the best interest of the donors to honor their intent" to give to the County Committee's federal account.

Commissioner Hunter Confronts Vice-Chair Ravel over Op-Ed

During the Commission's open session, Commissioner Hunter expressed concern that Vice Chair Ann Ravel had published an op-ed in The New York Times on April 2, which accused the Commission's three Republican appointees of acting as an "anti-enforcement bloc." She asked that Vice Chair Ravel provide clarification regarding statements in that op-ed, but Vice Chair Ravel refused to do so, claiming that the piece spoke for itself, and indicating that she would only discuss her opinions further off the record. This public confrontation is indicative of the ongoing lack of comity on the Commission, and resulting deadlock on important issues.

Private Use of Campaign Vehicle Results in Civil Penalty

In MUR 6585, former Representative Ed Towns admitted that he and his wife had improperly used a vehicle leased by his campaign for personal use, without reimbursing the campaign or keeping a mileage log as required by 11 C.F.R. § 113.1(g). Rep. Towns entered into a conciliation agreement with the Commission to settle this matter, agreeing to pay a civil penalty of $5,000 and to reimburse his campaign committee an additional $5,000 for his use of the vehicle.

Meeting Schedules

The Commission is scheduled to meet in executive session on Tuesday, April 22 and in open session on Thursday, April 23. Agendas for those meetings have yet to be released.

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