The Federal Election Commission has issued an advisory opinion making it much easier for federal candidates to offload their paid canvassing programs onto state PACs, nonprofits, and super PACs. While the campaign will need to pay for access to data collected, outside groups can now coordinate their canvassing activities—including the content of messages that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of federal candidates—with the candidates themselves.

In the request, a state political committee proposed hiring vendors to canvass potential voters before the election and distribute literature that would expressly advocate for the election or defeat of both state and federal candidates. The committee planned to “coordinate” its canvass by collaborating with federal candidates on aspects like strategy and messaging. Was this, requestors asked, an in-kind contribution to the federal candidates that a state committee like this one is prohibited from making? To this, the Commission answered no.Continue Reading FEC Allows Nonfederal Committee to Coordinate Paid Canvassing Efforts with Federal Candidates

Eyeing the prospect of candidate “deepfakes” in the 2024 elections, the Federal Election Commission has joined the debate on artificial intelligence (AI), voting unanimously at its August 10 meeting to move forward with a rulemaking on deceptive campaign ads.

The rapid acceleration of generative AI has raised questions about how the technology could be deployed to mislead voters, for example, by creating video or audio of a candidate saying something damaging they never in fact uttered. With these questions in mind, the Commission voted to ask the public for comment on whether the agency should initiate a formal rulemaking to ban “deliberately deceptive Artificial Intelligence campaign ads,” often referred to as “deepfakes.”Continue Reading Federal Election Commission Seeks Comments on AI in Campaign Ads

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has announced new contribution limits for the 2023-2024 election cycle. The FEC indexes certain contribution limits for inflation every two years. In recent cycles, limits have increased by $100 each cycle, but following high rates of inflation over the past two years, the FEC substantially increased several contribution limits this cycle.

Individuals may now give each federal candidate $3,300 per election, up from the previous limit of $2,900. The primary and general elections are considered separate elections, so an individual may now give a total of $6,600 per candidate, per cycle. Per-election limits are in effect for the two-year cycle beginning the day after the general election and ending the day of the next general election (November 9, 2022 to November 5, 2024).Continue Reading Federal Election Commission Announces Significant Increases to Contribution Limits Adjusted for Inflation for 2023-2024 Cycle

The Federal Election Commission last week approved a final rule establishing requirements for sponsorship disclaimers on political ads. The Commission’s internet disclaimer rule has been unchanged since 2006, at times leaving advertisers and platforms for political ads uncertain about how the rule applies to evolving technologies. The FEC’s review is ongoing, and the public is invited to comment on whether additional rules are necessary to regulate social media influencers, boosted ads, and other forms of digital advertising.

What’s New?

Technological Modernization. The rule approved this week incorporates proposed changes we first wrote about in 2018. To start with, the new rule makes clear that the current disclaimer requirements for ads placed for a fee on websites also apply to paid advertising through other digital platforms, such as social media, mobile apps, and streaming sites. This modernizes the rule to accommodate emerging technologies and is consistent with what has become common practice on major social media platforms and online advertising networks.Continue Reading FEC Adopts New Disclosure Rule for Digital Political Ads

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