May 27, 2014

Last Week at the FEC: RNC Sues to Overturn Limit on Independent Expenditure-only Contributions

Holland & Knight Eyes on Washington Blog
Andy Emerson

Last week, the Federal Election Commission met in executive session on May 20, but did not meet in public session or otherwise act on pending administrative matters. However, on Friday, May 23, the Republican National Committee, joined by state and local Republican committees from Louisiana, sued the Commission to overturn its existing prohibition against party committees establishing non-contribution accounts to fund independent expenditures.  

The commission also hosted various educational programs and announced the release of FEC Connect, a new on-line training service enabling political committees to schedule live, interactive, training sessions with FEC staff.

Republican National Committee, et. al. v. FEC

The RNC's recent complaint against the Commission is intended to clear away limits on contributions that the Commission left in place following a 2011 stipulated and order and consent judgment in Carey v. FEC. The RNC's complaint comes directly on the heels of a similar complaint, Rufer et. all v. FEC, which was filed by Libertarian party committees last Wednesday.

In order to implement the court's ruling in Cary, the FEC published reporting guidance that an independent political action committee may operated as a "hybrid-PAC" by maintaining both a contribution account, which is subject to FEC contribution limits, and a "non-contribution account" (NCA), which may receive unlimited contributions so long as the account funds are only used to make independent expenditures (i.e., those that are not coordinated with a candidate's campaign committee). However, that guidance only specifically applies to non-connected political committees and does not provide any clarification for political party committees.

In this most recent case, the RNC is trying to force the Commission to provide additional clarification allowing party committees to establishing NCA and accept unlimited contributions to fund those accounts. If successful, the RNC, Republican Party of Louisiana, and other federal, state, and local party committees could solicit substantially more than the current $32,400 limit on contributions to federal party committees and $10,000 to state party committees, so long as funds in excess of those amounts are deposited in NCAs used to fund independent expenditures.

The RNC's successful prosecution of this case could have a significant impact on the direction of current political spending, which some observers believe has become less accountable to candidates and party leaders. Allowing party committees to accept these unlimited contributions would empower them to exert substantially more control over political expenditures while limiting incentives for high-value donors to give to independent SuperPACs that are not beholden to candidates or party officials.

Meeting Schedules

The Commission's next executive session is not yet scheduled, but it is scheduled to meet in open session on Thursday, June 5. Agendas have not yet been released for those meetings, but the Commission may review an advisory opinion request from Enterprise Holdings, Inc. regarding preemption of a New York State law purported to prohibit payroll deduction by federal PACs.

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