The Federal Election Commission met on Thursday, October 1. The agenda included two advisory opinion requests, discussion about whether to ban foreign national contributions to state and local ballot measures, and a notice of proposed rulemaking on reporting multistate independent expenditures and electioneering communications on presidential primary elections.
The FEC first took up Advisory Opinion 2015-08. The requestor, Repledge, seeks to offer a program where contributors to opposing candidates can match up and pledge their contributions to charity, therefore canceling each other out and not donating to the candidate committees. The program is designed to combat the growing influence of money in elections.
The Commission divided over whether the platform was permissible. Commissioner Weintraub questioned whether the platform would work the way it was supposed to work. For example, she said, there was no guarantee that a contributor with money to spare could donate to a candidate and then use the platform to void contributions to the candidate’s opponent. Though she said she was encouraged by the creativity of the program, she believed such a program would be better suited for Super PACs, which she said were not as transparent as candidate committees, and which raise much larger sums.
Vice Chair Peterson argued that the Commission, in this case, should not worry about worst case scenarios. He supported Draft A as consistent with the Commission’s past practice of encouraging donor engagement. Commissioner Goodman agreed, saying that since the contributor chooses to take part in the proposal, it was warranted to defer to the participants in these platforms.
Chair Ravel, noting that she agreed with Vice Chair Peterson’s views but supported Draft B, asked Repledge for an extension, which was granted.
Next was Advisory Opinion 2015-07, which was requested by Hillary for America. HFA asked the Commission whether it could have attendees pay for their own food, beverages, and valet parking at campaign events, without making contributions to HFA. The Commission unanimously approved the request.
The Commission then moved to discuss a memorandum from Chair Ravel, which concerned defining the term “election” in 52 U.S.C. § 30121, the federal ban on contributions and expenditures by foreign nationals, to include state and local ballot measures. Saying, “Some people here do not believe this is a serious issue,” Chair Ravel discussed how there should be a ban on foreign national contributions. Since the law currently bans foreign nationals from making contributions in connection to “federal, state, and local elections,” there was no reason to believe that state and local ballot measures were not included. She then asked Tom Myers of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to speak. Mr. Myers told the Commission that a California measure involving sex worker safety was affected by foreign national contributions.
Vice Chair Peterson, making note of the Chair’s opening remarks, referred to the notion that he and other commissioners did not care about this issue as “ludicrous.” He said the Commission did not have the authority to redefine terms in the law. Chair Ravel and Commissioner Weintraub disagreed that the comments were directed towards Commissioners. Commissioner Weintraub then commented on Congressional intent, which pointed towards including state and local ballot measures in the definition.
Commissioner Hunter, returning to the Chair’s opening remarks, read the Chair’s opening statement verbatim to emphasize that the Chair was referring to fellow Commissioners. She stated that she did care, but again, the Commission did not have the authority to take up this matter. She noted that Rep. Ted Deutch introduced a bill to amend the law to extend the ban to state and local ballot measures. But since the Commission did not have jurisdiction, this argument was “a waste of time.”
Commissioner Goodman cautioned Mr. Myers from associating too much with Chair Ravel’s views, as the legal argument could mean that federal law would preempt California law. Since Myers and AHF filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, and since California had a strong foreign national contribution ban, it would be wise, he said, to fight this out in California.
The Commission ultimately deadlocked on a 3-3 vote.
Finally, the Commission discussed Notices of Proposed Rulemaking on reporting multistate independent expenditures and electioneering communications in presidential primary elections. At issue here was the interpretation of regulations that concern political committees’ reporting of independent expenditures and electioneering communications that were distributed nationwide but did not reference a particular state’s primary election. Commissioner Hunter offered a compromise to approve the draft interpretive rule for this cycle without approving the definition of “nationwide,” which was something they could return to down the road. The other Commissioners agreed to aspects of compromising for this cycle and agreed to discuss it in the future.
The Commission will next meet on October 29.