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Nader, the Michigan GOP, and FECA contribution limits

Benjamin Rahn of ActBlue.com raised an interesting point in an email to me. First, the background.

AP reports: Michigan Democratic executive chairman Mark Brewer said he thinks the state GOP exceeded a state political party campaign limit of $5,000 in helping Nader get on the ballot.

"The staff costs and administrative expenses incurred by the Michigan GOP in spending several weeks collecting 43,000 signatures for Nader clearly exceed that limit," Brewer said in a release. ...

GOP executive director Greg McNeilly said the party didn't exceed any campaign spending limits.

"At this point, I'm not sure the party spent a single dime on it. Internet activity is exempt. The petitions were downloaded from votenader.org, and the bulk of the work was done by volunteers," he said. -- Democrats give Nader ultimatum (AP via Detroit Free Press)

If the Michigan GOP had spent its funds on the petition drive, then that would be a contribution. Here's what the FEC said in an Advisory Opinion:

Because NCPAC's proposed solicitation, while directing that the contributions be made in the form of checks payable to the candidates, specifically asks that the checks be forwarded to NCPAC for gathering and transmittal to the candidates, the acceptance of the checks by the candidate constitutes acceptance of the costs incurred by NCPAC in connection with the solicitation. This situation in analogous, for example, to the printing of campaign materials by an individual or multicandidate committee advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. If those materials are distributed by the multicandidate committee, no in-kind contribution results. On the other hand, if the multicandidate committee provides the materials to the campaign committee, acceptance of the materials constitutes an in-kind contribution in the amount of the costs of their production. -- AO 1980-46

Ben poses this question:

So similarly, it seems that if Nader "accepts" the signatures collected by the GOP, he is also accepting the value of the work put into collecting them -- thereby exceeding the GOP's permitted contribution to him.

It seems to me that, if the GOP is correct in saying that the work was done by volunteers, it may get a pass. Any thoughts?