U.S. companies are allowed to make contributions to super PACs, which is exactly what Wheatland Tube, LLC did in this case. However, the decision to contribute involved conversations with a foreign national, and that led to a $975,000 fine to settle charges that the contribution by a U.S. company violated the ban on contributions made by foreign nationals. The fine is the third-largest in the agency’s history and provides an important lesson about the limits of foreign national involvement in decisions by U.S. companies to be involved in the political process.

The complaint concerned contributions totaling $1.75 million to a federal super PAC by U.S. company Wheatland Tube, LLC. Wheatland Tube is wholly owned by a U.S. corporation, Zekelman Industries, Inc. Canadian citizen, Barry Zekelman, is the CEO (as well as an owner) of Zekelman Industries.

Mr. Zekelman acknowledged that he discussed the contributions with Wheatland Tube’s president, a U.S. citizen who also served as general counsel of Zekelman Industries. But Wheatland’s president said that he exercised independent judgment in making the decision to contribute. The FEC rejected this defense, concluding that even if a U.S. citizen has “final decision-making authority or final say” over the making of a contribution, a foreign national – an individual who is not a U.S. citizen or lawfully admitted for permanent residence – may not participate, directly or indirectly, in a decision-making process regarding U.S. election-related spending. The FEC made clear that none of the funds involved appeared to have come from non-U.S. sources; the only violation was Mr. Zekelman’s involvement in the decision to contribute. To that end, the settlement also involved Zekelman Industries, because, even though it is a U.S. company, its executives were involved in the decision to contribute, and they were acting at Mr. Zekelman’s direction.

Continue Reading FEC Imposes Record Fine for Foreign Individual’s Role in U.S. Company’s Otherwise Lawful Contribution to a Super PAC

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently announced a $16,000 civil penalty against a political campaign, to settle allegations that the campaign had inappropriately used FEC contributor data in an algorithm used to aid its fundraising. The settlement is the latest in a series of decisions this year cracking down on the practice of using the FEC’s public contribution data to facilitate fundraising operations.

Contributor Data Disclosure

Federal campaign finance laws require all federal political committees to disclose the name, address, occupation, employer, and contribution amounts from donors who have given more than $200 per cycle. When the law was first written in the mid-1970s, there was no internet, so access to the records was very limited. Moreover, $200 then was worth nearly $1,000 in current dollars (so in fact it was a much larger contribution than it may first appear). Today, the FEC makes these disclosures public in a searchable online database, a tempting trove in an age when data has become integral to improving the efficiency of organizations’ public outreach.

Continue Reading FEC Cracks Down on Use of Contributor Data

A federal government contractor has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $125,000 for making prohibited contributions to super PACs. The penalty is the largest the Federal Election Commission has obtained for violating the ban on federal contractor contributions.

According to settlement documents made public earlier this month, a Florida-based disaster response firm made contributions

Every two years, the FEC indexes certain contribution limits to inflation. New contribution limits for the 2021-2022 election cycle were announced on Tuesday.

Individuals may now give $2,900 per candidate, per election (with the primary and general elections considered separate elections), up from the previous limit of $2,800. Between primary and general election giving, an individual may now give a total of $5,800 per candidate, per election cycle. The new limits are in effect for the two-year election cycle beginning the day after the most recent general election and ending on the date of the next general election (November 4, 2020 to November 8, 2022).

The FEC also raised the limits on individual contributions to national party committees. Individuals may now give up to $36,500 per recipient, per year to the main account of the national party committees, up from the previous limit of $35,500. Individuals may also give up to $109,500 per account, per year, to each of the additional national party committee accounts maintained for presidential nominating conventions; election recounts, contests, and other legal proceedings; and national party headquarters buildings (up from the previous limit of $106,500). These new limits are in effect for the two-calendar-year period beginning January 1, 2021 and ending December 31, 2022.

Continue Reading Federal Election Commission Announces New Contribution Limits for 2021-2022 Cycle

“It’s déjà vu all over again”

With the announcement last week that Commissioner Caroline Hunter (R) plans to resign her seat on the Federal Election Commission (FEC), effective July 3, 2020, the agency finds itself yet again without the minimum four Commissioners necessary to open investigations, defend new lawsuits, and issue advisory opinions. As we

The Senate today confirmed James E. “Trey” Trainor III as a member of the Federal Election Commission, reestablishing a quorum just months ahead of the 2020 general election. Since August 2019, when one of the commissioners resigned, the Commission has lacked a quorum, and as a result has been unable to investigate complaints, collect fines,

Federal and state regulators continue to modify their lobbying and campaign finance reporting and enforcement practices and requirements in response to the ongoing upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As states postpone primaries to prevent the spread of coronavirus, agencies have revised reporting deadlines for election-sensitive campaign finance reports. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced

The coronavirus (COVID-19) presents many new challenges for political campaigns, committees, and related actors. These challenges include the possibility that treasurers and staff will be unavailable to timely prepare and submit campaign finance reports. Today, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) provided an update on Commission operations, including on the upcoming deadlines for filing campaign finance reports.

The FEC has confirmed that filers should continue to file their reports on time because the Commission does not believe it has the statutory authority to extend these filing deadlines. The Commission has, however, advised that it may exercise its discretion “not to pursue administrative fines against filers prevented from filing by reasonably unforeseen circumstances beyond their control.”

Continue Reading FEC Unable to Extend Filing Deadlines During Coronavirus Pandemic

Every two years, after an election, the FEC indexes certain contribution limits to inflation. After returning from the shutdown, the FEC issued the revised limits for this year, a few days later than usual. As has been the case the past few cycles, the individual limit has gone up by $100. For candidates up for election in 2020, individuals may now give $2,800 per election or $5,600 per candidate per election cycle (with the primary and general considered separate elections). This means that individual contributors who had previously maxed out to candidates for 2020 primary and general elections at $2,700 per election can now give those candidates another $100 per election.

The FEC also raised the limits on individual contributions to party committees and non-multicandidate PACs:

Continue Reading Federal Election Commission Announces New Contribution Limits for 2019-2020 Cycle

The U.S. Supreme Court this week left in place a lower court ruling that expands donor disclosure for advocacy groups that fund independent expenditures. While the full effect of the ruling may not be known for some time, groups in the throes of an election season suddenly have to reconsider their electoral spending plans and fundraising practices, and donors to politically active 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations or 501(c)(6) business leagues have to account for an increased risk that their donations will be publicly disclosed.

What Does the Ruling Do?

Groups that are not registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as campaign committees, party committees, or PACs are nonetheless required to file reports if they make an expenditure of more than $250 that expressly supports or opposes a federal candidate. These “independent expenditure” reports must itemize disbursements to each vendor involved in the creation and distribution of an ad (or other public communication), and identify the election involved and whether the organization supports or opposes the featured candidate.

In addition, a long-standing FEC rule requires that these reports identify donors who gave more than $200 to the organization in the calendar year for the purpose of funding the particular ad that is being reported. As a practical matter, donors seldom know that their funds will be used to pay for a specific ad, and thus donors have rarely been disclosed.

The district court struck down the FEC donor-disclosure rule, concluding that it applied the statutory disclosure requirement too narrowly. The court concluded that independent expenditure reports filed by groups that are not registered political committees must identify all donors who (1) give to the organization for the purpose of influencing a federal election, or (2) give for the purpose of funding the group’s independent expenditures, whether tied to a specific ad or not. The court stressed, however, that contributors to an organization’s “general programs” need not be identified.

The court deferred the effective date of the ruling for 45 days, giving the FEC time to adopt a new donor disclosure rule. That period came and went with no new rule or interpretive guidance. Crossroads GPS, which intervened in the case, has appealed the ruling to the D.C. Circuit.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Allows Expanded Donor Disclosure Rules to Take Effect