b2tfIn January 2010 –  as almost everyone already knows by now – the Supreme Court struck down major portions of campaign finance laws, allowing corporations to make independent expenditures in support of, or opposition to, candidates for federal office. Super PACs that could accept unlimited individual and corporate contributions soon followed based on lower court

HandcuffsThe U.S. Department of Justice has announced the first criminal prosecution for a violation of federal laws prohibiting outside groups from coordinating their activities with the candidates and campaigns they support.

The six-member Federal Election Commission, which is primarily responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal campaign finance laws, has deadlocked repeatedly over whether to investigate complaints of coordination. But with this announcement, the Justice Department, which may pursue knowing and willful violations of the same laws, has stepped into the breach.

In the plea agreement, a Virginia-based political consultant admitted serving as campaign manager for a U.S. candidate for Congress, while at the same time operating a Super PAC that spent $325,000 on ads attacking that candidate’s opponent. No one else has been charged in the case. Interestingly, there is no indication in the charging documents that the candidate knew about the work the consultant was doing for the Super PAC. However, the coordination rules apply not just to candidates, but also to their staff, and in some circumstances, their volunteers.  Violations may be established even if the candidate is unaware of a representative’s unlawful activity. 
Continue Reading Justice Department Brings First Criminal Case for Campaign, Super PAC Coordination

mynameisThe Washington Examiner recently wrote about the art of naming a PAC, pointing out that the name must “balance patriotic with practical considerations.” The Examiner talked about making sure the name is not too long if the PAC will have to include “paid for by” statements on its ads. But there are some other legal considerations as well. Let’s look at some of the FEC’s naming rules.

If the PAC is a connected PAC, meaning it is supported by a company, union, nonprofit, or trade or professional association, then it must include the full name of the connected organization. We have seen registrations rejected by the FEC for failing to include “Inc.” or “Company” if that full legal name of the entity includes those signifiers. Thus, Widget Manufacturing Company of Our Town, Inc. must include all of those words in the name of the PAC. That name must appear in all legal disclaimers.

Continue Reading Naming Your PAC

As it has done every two years since the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act indexed contribution limits for inflation, the FEC has announced revised contribution limits for the 2016 election cycle. In addition to the traditional limits for candidates, PACs, and parties, the FEC also set the indexed limit for the new special accounts created at the end of 2014 for the national political parties. This first chart shows the limits for individual and PAC contributions to candidates, PACs, and state and local party committees:

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This next chart shows the amounts that an individual may give to the national party committees. The general fund is the account that has always existed, while the other funds are the new accounts Congress created in 2014 to help the parties to defray certain costs:
Continue Reading More to Give: FEC Raises Contribution Limits

The Maryland legislature overhauled the state’s campaign finance law almost two years ago, but many of the key provisions did not take effect until January 1, 2015. These changes significantly affect state government contractors by introducing a new electronic registration system overseen by the State Board of Elections, and requiring electronic reporting of contributions made

FlagsIn every election, campaigns and their political fundraisers must navigate a complex and ever-changing array of laws, which increasingly are being rewritten by the courts. The rules changed again last month, when the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC struck down the limit on the amount an individual may give during an election cycle to all federal candidate and PACs, and to the national political parties. While the ruling did not directly involve any state laws, the Court’s reasoning – that the First Amendment forbids restrictions on how many candidates or committees a donor may support – cast doubt on the constitutionality of laws in about a dozen states that also impose aggregate limits.

Yet with elections just weeks or months away, only a few of the states potentially affected by McCutcheon have indicated how they will interpret and apply it. Most have been silent, perhaps waiting for a lawsuit to force the issue, or a contributor who flouts the aggregate limit and dares the state to enforce it.
Continue Reading Come and Get Us: Some States in No Hurry to Respond to Supreme Court Ruling on Aggregate Limits

Louisiana imposes an aggregate limit of $100,000 on a person’s contributions to a political committee in Louisiana during a four-year election cycle. An independent expenditure-only committee (i.e., a Super PAC) supporting gubernatorial candidate David Vitter sued, arguing that the cap is unconstitutional as applied to super PACs. A federal judge has now agreed.

“[I]ndependent expenditure committees are sacrosanct under the First Amendment.”

The Louisiana judge sided with the unanimous rulings of seven federal courts of appeals that have struck down limits on contributions to Super PACs. Based on these rulings, and the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United case, the judge observed that as a matter of law “independent expenditures present not even a marginal risk of corruption,” a principle that holds even if the Super PAC is formed to support a single candidate.

Continue Reading Another One Bites the Dust

Ron Jacobs and Larry Norton presented “Election-Year Advocacy: Maintaining Your Nonprofit’s Clear Message in Cloudy Legal Seas,” a webinar covering topics for nonprofits engaged in political activity. It included topics such as:

  • The rules that apply to 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) organizations and how those rules are changing;
  • How to operate a political action committee (PAC),

As discussed last fall, against the fairly settled case law around the country, New York continued to fight against Super PACs. A Super PAC is a political committee that typically funds ads advocating for or against candidates, but that may not coordinate its spending with candidates and their campaigns. New York argued that its annual

SCOTUSMuch of the post-McCutcheon discussion has focused on what might follow from the decision: are there other dominos to fall? Some predicted the ban on direct corporate contributions might be in play and noted that there was a case pending for the Supreme Court to consider. But Monday, the Court declined to hear that