At its public meeting today, the FEC approved two advisory opinions, one of which allows Rep. Paul Ryan’s campaign committee and leadership PAC to promote the Congressman’s upcoming book.
The FEC released three drafts prior to the meeting, all of which allowed the committees to promote the book to varying degrees. As Brian Svoboda explained on this blog yesterday, the drafts differed as to just how much Representative Ryan’s leadership PAC, Prosperity Action, could promote the book. Rep. Ryan will receive royalties from sales of the book.
The Commissioners disagreed generally over the scope of the Federal Election Campaign Act’s prohibition on the personal use of campaign funds, and specifically over whether the prohibition applies to leadership PACs. Members of Congress may not use campaign funds for payments that would exist irrespective of their campaign or status as an officeholder. The Commission has repeatedly found that the personal use prohibition can be implicated when a campaign purchases or promotes a book from which the candidate receives royalties. However, it asked Congress last year to amend the personal use statute to apply to leadership PACs, implying at least that the prohibition does not extend to them.
The Commission adopted a modified version of Draft C, allowing Rep. Ryan’s PAC to promote the book on the Internet under the same limits that apply his campaign, but stating that the Commission could not agree on whether the personal use restrictions applied to his PAC.
Commissioner Ravel said that she was not comfortable allowing unlimited promotion of the book by the leadership PAC, because Rep. Ryan will receive royalties from book sales. Commissioners Weintraub and Walther went further and argued that even de minimis promotion, whether by the leadership PAC or the campaign, would violate the personal use prohibition.
After voting on the opinion, Commission Chair Goodman raised the separate issue of whether the publisher’s promotion of the book was covered by the media exemption from the campaign finance laws. Draft C stated that the book publisher’s costs were not subject to the Act’s regulation because they stemmed from bona fide commercial activity. But Goodman argued forcefully that the Commission should have relied on the “media” exemption instead, stating that the exemption for commercial activity subjected the publisher to additional regulation. He said the opinion could create a “festering legal uncertainty” that could restrict activity by nonprofit book publishers and prevent them from stating their editorial viewpoints. Commissioners Weintraub and Ravel disagreed forcefully with Goodman, arguing that since Congress did not include the category of books in the media exemption, the Commission had to rely on the commercial vendor exception instead.
The Commission unanimously approved a request from the Henry Ford Health System Government Affairs Services Political Action Committee, a corporate PAC that sought to raise funds from its corporate parent and the parent’s subsidiaries. The Commission was scheduled to consider a request from a congressional candidate who sought to appear on a reality TV show, but the candidate withdrew the request late last night.