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November 21, 2007

FEC regulates (lightly) sham issue ads

The Trail blog on reports: The Federal Election Commission has reopened the door for corporations and unions to pay for television commercials during the upcoming presidential and congressional campaigns, so long as the ads avoid expressly advocating for or against a candidate.

The new rules come in response to a recent Supreme Court decision that knocked out a key provision of the landmark 2002 legislation overhauling the nation's campaign finance laws. The law prohibited issue advertising, paid for with corporate or union money, that named a candidate -- 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election -- and was considered by its supporters to be one of the bright lines in the act governing the role special interest groups may play in an election.

The new rules are expected to revive the practice by unions and special interest groups of airing ads during a campaign that purport to be about a specific issue, but are in fact intended to sway voters for or away from a particular candidate.

Loyola Law Professor Rick Hasen, who has been closely following debate on the campaign rules, said the new FEC language will provide a safe haven for groups that want to use "sham issue ads" to promote their candidate. In his blog today, he offered these hypothetical examples of advertising messages that he said would now be permitted:
"Call Sen. Clinton and tell her to stop coddling illegal aliens and terrorists by supporting the NY drivers' license plan."
"Call Mitt Romney and tell him more of our soldiers shouldn't die in an unnecessary war in Iraq."
"Call Rudy Giuliani and tell him that his support for gay rights is ruining the moral fabric of this country." -- In Wake of Court Ruling, FEC Makes Financing Rule Change Official | The Trail |

December 13, 2006

FEC will consider requiring more detail in expenditure reports

Brett Kappel emails: Tomorrow the FEC will vote on the attached statement of policy, which requires PACs to use greater precision when describing disbursements. The policy contains a short list of acceptable descriptive terms for PAC disbursements. More importantly, the policy contains an extensive list of descriptive terms that will no longer be acceptable. I am advising my PAC clients to consult this list when preparing the PAC's Year-End Report due on January 31, 2007.

November 30, 2006

FEC proposes lowered fines foe self-reported violations

AP reports: The Federal Election Commission on Thursday took steps to encourage politicians and contributors to report their own possible violations of campaign finance laws by offering them significantly reduced fines.

Commission officials said the number of self-reported violations has increased recently, prompting the need for a specific policy that spells out how the FEC will dispose of such cases. ...

Before fully adopting the policy, the commission has asked for public comment on the proposal by Jan. 29.

The proposal contains two penalty recommendations for violators who voluntarily blow the whistle on themselves. One would reduce civil penalties by 50 to 75 percent of standard fines, depending on the steps taken to report and correct the violation. Another would set the reduction at 50 percent, but give the commission leeway to lower or increase the discount based on mitigating factors. -- Feds ask: Blow the whistle on yourself - Yahoo! News

November 14, 2006

More on the FEC's proposed internal financial controls for PACs

The Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP law firm has posted an article for its clients on FEC Proposes Internal Financial Controls for PACs - Voluntary Controls Aimed at Embezzlement.

October 19, 2006

FEC proposes internal financial controls for PACs

Update: Commissioner Robert D. Lenhard emailed me with a clarification about the proposal described below:

While I had hoped our documents were clear, your post left me concerned they were not.

The proposals put out for public comment yesterday were not new requirements.

One was a description of the types of protective internal controls a committee should consider when developing an internal controls policy.

The second was set of minimum standards that, if implemented, would lead the Commission to decide not to proceed with an enforcement action for the misreporting of receipts and disbursements that were a product of the embezzlement.

Neither document proposed establishing new requirements that committees had to follow.

That said, I want to thank you for your help in publicizing our interest in public comment on these proposals.

Original post (18 October): On the FEC agenda todaywas a proposal to require PACs to establish internal controls over their funds. Included in the proposal were the following:

  • All PAC bank accounts must be opened in the name of the PAC, never in the name of an individual.

  • Checks in excess of $1,000 and all wire transfers must be authorized in writing by two individuals, who are identified in writing in the PAC's internal policies.

  • The PAC officer who receives incoming checks and monitors incoming receipts may not handle the PAC's accounting or have authority over the PAC's bank accounts.

  • The PAC officer who handles incoming checks must make a list of all incoming receipts and must place a restrictive endorsement such as "For Deposit Only" and the PAC's bank account number on all checks.

  • Bank statements must be reconciled to the accounting records and list of receipts each month by someone other than the check signer or an individual handling the committee's accounting.

  • If the PAC has a petty cash fund, it must use an imprest system with no more than $200 outstanding at any one time.
  • The point of all this is to "provide the dual benefit of protecting [PAC] assets and facilitating the filing of accurate disclosure reports," according to the Audit Division, which sent the proposal to the Commission.

    The proposal will be published in the Federal Register soon to allow public comment on the proposal.

    Thanks to Brett Kappel who allowed me to copy the bullet points above.

    June 1, 2006

    FEC refuses to adopt 527 regulations

    The New York Times reports: The Federal Election Commission has decided not to issue rules to regulate so-called 527 organizations that used millions of dollars in private donations to become powerful voices in the 2004 presidential election.

    A federal judge had told the commission that it had two choices: issue uniform rules or issue a fuller explanation of why it was dealing with 527-related cases one by one even as the 2006 elections near. The commission voted 4 to 2 not to appeal the judge's ruling, and chose the second option.

    Its chairman, Michael E. Toner, a Republican, dissented, saying, "The failure to issue rules has fostered uncertainty about what is legally permissible and has undermined the McCain-Feingold law" that governs campaign financing.

    The vote by the panel set the stage for another round of court battles that could affect the 2006 Congressional elections, as well as the 2008 presidential race. -- Election Panel Won't Issue Donation Rules - New York Times

    October 24, 2005

    Appeals Court denies stay to FEC

    AP reports: The Federal Election Commission must begin work on writing tougher campaign finance rules to govern the 2006 elections after a federal appeals court declined to intervene in a challenge.

    In a one-page order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined to reconsider a decision requiring the FEC to write new rules to carry out a 2002 campaign finance law.

    The FEC requested the full court's review in August after a three-judge panel upheld U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's 2004 ruling striking down several FEC rules interpreting the new law.

    Commissioner Michael Toner said Friday's order means the FEC must start drafting tougher rules on political donations, including how Internet activity will be regulated. The FEC could still appeal to the Supreme Court, but has not indicated whether it will do so. -- Appeals court declines to review decision on campaign finance rules -

    July 16, 2005

    Appeals Court affirms decision on FEC rules

    AP reports: An appeals court agreed on Friday that federal election regulators wrongly opened several loopholes in a 2002 campaign finance law that had been designed to take big contributions out of Congressional and presidential elections.

    In a 2-to-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed a ruling last year by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of Federal District Court here. Judge Kollar-Kotelly struck down more than a dozen Federal Election Commission regulations interpreting the 2002 campaign finance law and ordered the commission to write tougher rules.

    The cornerstone of the 2002 law is a ban on the raising of soft money - corporate and union contributions in any amount and unlimited donations from any source - by national party committees, the president, vice president, members of Congress and candidates for federal office. The law, which broadly bars the use of soft money in federal elections, was intended to rid federal elections of special-interest contributions that had ballooned into six- and seven-figure checks. -- Appeals Court Upholds Ruling on Campaign Finance Rules - New York Times

    July 5, 2005

    A proposal to the FEC

    Matt Stoller writes on DailyKos: The reason the FEC donor database succeeds in regulating where rules fail is because it works with the architecture of the internet, rather than against it. In other words, regulation in the internet age is about changing the information environment, and letting a network of bloggers, journalists, organizations, and citizens do the rest. In other words, the notion that regulating public communications solely means telling organized entities what they can and can't do rather than helping the public itself communicate is a flaw in the definition of public communication, and a misunderstanding of how power and corruption work in a decentralized system.

    So let's turn the problem of political corruption from money in the process around, and unleash citizens on the problem of corruption rather than just a regulatory agency. To that end, the single best and least intrusive thing the FEC could do to root out corruption in the campaign world be to create a public database for communication by Federal political committees. This 'FEC Public Communications Database' would be an archive of all communications coming from any Federal registered Political Committee that is distributed to more than 10,000 people. Every direct mail piece, every TV spot, every radio spot, every email, every official blog entry - would go into this publicly archived and searchable database within 24-48 hours of its release. That way, just as political committees must stand behind who gives to them, they will also need to stand behind what they say. -- Daily Kos: Political Analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation.

    June 29, 2005

    Kos' remarks to the FEC

    Kos told the FEC: How are Internet technologies different than their offline media counterparts?

    The barriers to entry are ridiculously low. A computer and an Internet connection can turn anyone into a publisher who can speak to a mass audience. Every single one of the communication technologies I mentioned above - the blogging, podcasting, Yahoo Groups, etc - is available to people for free. By comparison, it takes millions to start or buy a newspaper, television station, magazine, or radio station.

    And that low barrier to entry ensures that anyone can communicate. It ensures that corporations or labor unions or wealthy individuals have no bigger say than people like me. I am a former war refugee from El Salvador. Didn't speak English when I came to this country. I never had friends in influential places. I wasn't part of an old boy's network. My father, a Greek immigrant, loaded freight in a warehouse. My mother, a Salvadoran immigrant, started off as a secretary. It is rare to see people of such modest backgrounds become media stars. Yet here is a medium that didn't care about things that didn't matter - like class, wealth, influence, or social networks.

    I was able to rise to where I am today precisely because of the purely democratic nature of the Internet. And what's more, me being at the top of the blogging world doesn't mean others can't publish their own blogs and some day displace me. It doesn't mean they can't podcast. It doesn't mean they can't create email distribution lists. The "spectrum" is infinite. Anyone who wants a voice can have a voice, and anyone who wants to listen to or read them can do so. -- Daily Kos: Political Analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation.

    June 5, 2005

    Blogs: To regulate or not?

    The Washington Post reports: A raft of lawmakers, campaign finance watchdog groups, election lawyers and bloggers urged the Federal Election Commission on Friday to exempt the vast majority of -- if not all -- individual political activists on the Internet from new regulations.

    The comments, submitted hours before an agency deadline, came as the FEC considers whether and how to regulate online political activities, including blogging, advertising and e-mail. The commission had proposed shielding virtually all online political activities from government restrictions. But two sponsors of the campaign finance reform legislation approved in 2002 successfully sued to overturn that and some other policies. The court's decision left it to the FEC to decide which activities to regulate.

    That has worried bloggers, in particular, who fear they will have to consult lawyers to ensure they do not run afoul of any new rules. The FEC, which is scheduled to decide the issue later this year, released a draft of its proposed regulations this spring that indicated it intended to take a relatively light hand. The agency also invited public comment on its proposal.

    The authors of the campaign finance reform law, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), filed a joint statement urging the agency to ignore individuals' politicking on the Internet and focus instead on tightening rules governing online activities of unions, corporations and state political parties. -- Groups Weigh In on Web Politicking

    March 25, 2005

    FEC proposal on regulation of Internet politics

    The New York Times reports: The Federal Election Commission on Thursday proposed new ways to apply campaign finance rules to online political activity, inviting members of the public to comment on how the agency should regulate things like online advertising and e-mailed political messages.

    The proposal, which would primarily address paid political advertising on the Internet, was the first step toward new rules that were mandated by a federal court last year after the commission lost a legal challenge.

    Accordingly, the six-member commission, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, is treading lightly as it begins what will be a months-long process that includes a public hearing in June. ...

    The proposal suggests extending campaign finance rules that cover advertising in other media like television to cover Internet advertising as well, meaning, for example, that advertisements could not be bought using unlimited "soft money" contributions in many cases.

    But it also proposes exemptions for political activity conducted by individual advocates, as well as for Web sites that carry news articles, commentary and editorial content. There are also proposed exemptions for state political parties. -- The New York Times > Washington > Election Commission Urges Finance Rules for Online Politics

    The draft regulations can be downloaded here.

    March 21, 2005

    FEC begins consideration of online regulation

    The Washington Post reports: The Federal Election Commission has begun considering whether to issue new rules on how political campaigns are waged on the Internet, a regulatory process that is expected to take months to complete but that is already generating considerable angst online.

    The agency is weighing whether -- and how -- to impose restrictions on a host of online activities, including campaign advertising and politically oriented blogs.

    Election officials are reluctantly taking up the issue, after losing a court case last fall. The FEC, which enforces federal election law, had issued scores of regulations delineating how the campaign finance reform legislation adopted in 2002 ought to be implemented. But Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), who sponsored the legislation, complained that many of those rules were too lax, and they successfully sued to have them rescinded. The commission must now rewrite a number of those directions, including ones that left online political activities virtually free from government regulation.

    "We are almost certainly going to move from an environment in which the Internet was per se not regulated to where it is going to be regulated in some part," said FEC Commissioner David M. Mason, a Republican. "That shift has huge significance because it means that people who are conducting political activity on the Internet are suddenly going to have to worry about or at least be conscious of certain legal distinctions and lines they didn't used to have to worry about." -- FEC Considers Restricting Online Political Activities (

    January 6, 2005

    New FEC rule on solicitations by non-profits

    The Alliance for Justice writes: The Federal Election Commission (FEC) passed a new rule, effective January 2005, that redefines how contributions resulting from certain fundraising solicitations are treated under federal election law. If a fundraising solicitation suggests that any portion of the funds collected will be used to support or oppose the election of a federal candidate, all contributions in response to the solicitation will now be treated as political contributions under federal election law (see 11 CFR 100.57). -- The New Solicitation Rule

    The web page has details in a Q&A format.

    December 17, 2004

    FEC proposes to allow trade association PACs to use electronic payroll deductions

    The Hill reports: Federal election officials moved today to make it easier for trade associations to raise money for political action committees.

    The Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted to propose a new rule allowing associations to collect contributions by electronic payroll deductions from employees of member companies.

    Employees can funnel a portion of their checks directly into their savings accounts, for example, and would also be able to earmark cash automatically to an association's political action committee, or PAC, under the FEC proposal.

    For years, individual corporations and labor unions have been able to raise money this way but associations have not. -- FEC moves to help trade association PACs raise cash

    October 13, 2004

    FEC considers regulation of Internet campaign activity

    AP reports: With political fund raising, campaign advertising and organizing taking place in full swing over the Internet, it may just be a matter of time before the Federal Election Commission joins the action. Well, that time may be now.

    A recent federal court ruling says the FEC must extend some of the nation's new campaign finance and spending limits to political activity on the Internet.

    Long reluctant to step into online political activity, the agency is considering whether to appeal.

    But vice chairwoman Ellen Weintraub said the Internet may prove to be an unavoidable area for the six-member commission, regardless of what happens with the ruling. -- FEC may regulate Web political activity (AP via MSNBC)

    October 5, 2004

    FEC asks for stay of judgment on its rules; Shays and Meehan criticize

    AP reports: Sponsors of the nation's campaign finance law urged a court Tuesday to uphold a ruling striking down several government rules on political fund raising despite the Federal Election Commission's request for a stay.

    Reps. Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan noted that U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly's ruling overturning more than a dozen FEC regulations didn't block the commission from enforcing those rules while it wrote new ones. Instead, the judge left it to the FEC to decide how to proceed, they wrote. ...

    If the judge grants the FEC's stay request, she should block only the parts of the ruling the commission plans to appeal, and should press for quick action by an appellate court on the commission's appeal so new rules could be in place early in the 2005-06 election cycle, the lawmakers wrote.

    The FEC asked the judge Friday to stay her decision, arguing that rules interpreting the campaign finance law are crucial as the election approaches. The commission also asked Kollar-Kotelly to make it clear that the regulations she overturned will remain in effect while the FEC appeals her September ruling. -- Lawmakers oppose FEC bid to stay decision overturning campaign finance rules (AP via

    September 20, 2004

    Federal court voids 15 FEC regulations adopted under BCRA

    The Hill reports: U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has struck down 15 Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations governing activities ranging from political coordination to state party fundraising, throwing candidates and election lawyers into confusion 43 days before the election.

    The judge ruled in a lawsuit against the FEC filed by Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.), who spearheaded passage of campaign-finance reform in the House two years ago.

    Campaign-finance reformers heralded the sweeping opinion as a stinging rebuke to an agency that many of them want to replace with a single-administrator agency akin to the FBI. -- FEC is left in limbo by ruling (The

    The opinion is available here on Bob Bauer's More Soft Money Hard Law. Commentary is available from Bauer and Democracy 21.

    August 21, 2004

    FEC adopts new rules for 527s

    The New York Times reports: The Federal Election Commission passed a series of complicated campaign finance rules on Thursday in an effort to make it harder for some independent political groups to spend millions in unrestricted contributions in future elections.

    Backing away from tougher restrictions that it had considered earlier, the commission voted, 4 to 2, to approve a compromise that will require some of the groups known as 527 committees, for the section of the tax code that applies to them, to raise far more money in small contributions and rely less on larger unlimited donations known as soft money.

    The rules, to take effect early next year, will have large effects on some organizations but not on others, depending on how the groups are legally organized, how they raise and spend money and what activities they undertake. -- Panel Compromises on Soft Money Rules (New York Times)

    The Washington Post gives more details: The FEC adopted two major regulations.

    The first involves fundraising solicitations. If an appeal to a prospective donor "indicates that any portion of the funds" will be used to support or oppose a federal candidate, then the maximum that can be contributed would be $5,000. Currently, groups that refer specifically to President Bush and John F. Kerry are raising contributions that in some cases exceed $10 million. A group raising money for both federal and nonfederal candidates must raise at least half of its funds in amounts of $5,000 or less, according to the new rules.

    The second rule governs the way the groups collect both "soft money," defined as unlimited donations from corporation, unions and wealthy individuals, and "hard money," defined as limited donations from individuals.

    Under current rules, ACT, for example, has financed much of its work using 98 percent soft money and 2 percent hard money. As of 2005, at least half the financing would have to be done with smaller, hard money contributions. -- FEC Votes to Curb Nonparty Donations (Washington Post)

    Bob Bauer's More Soft Money Hard Law has his usual trenchant analysis in the Outside Groups section.

    May 13, 2004

    FEC delays 527 regulations for at least 90 days

    The Federal Election Commission today refused, for now, to put limits on independent political groups that collect and spend millions in unlimited contributions, opening the way for advocacy groups supported by Democrats and Republicans to play a dramatic role in the 2004 elections.

    The decision to postpone the rules for 90 days was a victory for a group of Democratic organizations that have played a critical role supporting Senator John Kerry, spending tens of millions to bolster his campaign as he emerged from the primaries. ...

    "The 2004 election is going to be the wild west," said Michael Toner, a Republican commissioner whose efforts to introduce tighter regulations were defeated by a vote of 4-2. "We are going to see Democratic groups and Republican groups taking full advantage of the legal landscape. Tremendous sums of soft money are going to be raised and spent on both sides." -- Election Panel Won't Impose New Spending Limits on Groups (New York Times) **

    The agency followed the advice of its lawyers, who on Tuesday had recommended a delay of at least three months. The panel reached its decision after a five-hour meeting.

    The debate is built around whether limits should be imposed on organizations — known as 527s, for the section of the tax code that governs their activities — that raise and spend campaign money independent of candidate organizations and the political parties. -- New Campaign Spending Rules Rejected (Los Angeles Times)

    These new Democratic organizations have drawn support from some wealthy liberals determined to defeat Bush -- including financier George Soros and his wife, Susan Weber Soros, who have given $7.5 million to two of the most prominent groups, America Coming Together (ACT) and

    Pro-Republican groups immediately vowed to try to match the liberal organizations. But Republicans have been under less pressure to raise nonparty money because of the success of the Bush campaign, which has already raised $200 million, while the Republican National Committee had raised $157.4 million through the end of March. -- In Boost for Democrats, FEC Rejects Proposed Limits on Small Donors (Washington Post)

    April 15, 2004

    FEC chairman criticizes RNC for no-show

    The GOP chairman of the Federal Election Commission gently admonished the Republican National Committee for declining to testify yesterday at a hearing about proposed rules to restrict fundraising and spending by independent political organizations.

    Chairman Bradley A. Smith said "it would have been useful" if the RNC had sent a representative to answer citizen complaints that the GOP is "seeking merely to silence criticism of President Bush" by attempting to limit the "527" organizations. "It would have been valuable for the RNC in this forum to put to rest the accusation that theirs is a strategy of short-term political advantage," Smith said.

    The RNC initially asked to testify in favor of restricting 527s, but it withdrew its request Friday. Charles R. Spies, the RNC's election law counsel, complained in a letter to the commission that too much of the hearings' focus was on nonprofit groups other than 527s. Spies said the shift in emphasis was a "cynical diversionary tactic" that undercuts the commission's main task: to decide how best to restrict 527s.

    The RNC is at the forefront of groups that want the commission to crack down on the activities of 527s, which are new and mostly pro-Democratic organizations named for the section of the tax code that governs them. Spending by these groups has made a large impression on the presidential campaign, and leaders of both parties say that the commission's decisions could affect the race this year between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). --
    RNC Chided for Absence at Hearing On 527 Rule (

    March 11, 2004

    Nonprofit Advocacy web site

    Five organizations -- the Alliance for Justice, Charity Lobbying the Public Interest, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, National Council of Nonprofit Associations, and OMB Watch -- have joined together to create Their first issue is the pending FEC rulemaking on 527's and 501(c)'s.

    March 5, 2004

    The big papers on the FEC's proposed 527 rule

    The Federal Election Commission yesterday set in motion regulatory proceedings that could severely restrict new pro-Democratic groups seeking to defeat President Bush.

    The proposed regulations, drafted by the agency's general counsel, would severely crimp the fundraising and spending activities of "527" groups, named for the section of the tax code that governs their activities. But advocates of the tough regulations suffered a setback when a Democratic commissioner in a position to cast the key swing vote said she is likely to oppose any changes in the rules that would take effect before the November elections.

    The FEC, normally a backwater among Washington agencies, has become a battlefield pitting a flush Republican Party and a Bush campaign with a $100 million-plus war chest against a Democratic Party suffering from a 2 to 1 financial disadvantage. The Republican National Committee, joined by a number of campaign watchdog groups, is pressing the six-member commission to rule that a network of pro-Democratic organizations with a plan to spend as much as $300 million this year, most of it "soft money," is breaking the law.

    These groups, collectively functioning as a "shadow" Democratic Party, are a key part of a Democratic presidential campaign strategy that seeks to fill the vacuum created by a new ban on the raising of large soft-money contributions from unions, corporations and rich people imposed by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. -- Reining In Anti-Bush Groups (

    The primary issue is whether 527 committees should be regulated the same way as other political groups, which are subject to contribution limits and other campaign finance restrictions. Such restrictions could effectively put the committees out of the soft-money business.

    The commission's complex, 108-page document contained a menu of options for regulating the 527 committees, rather than committing to a single approach. One major question, which commissioners say has yet to be answered, is whether the rules will apply in this year's election.

    "I think the commission faces a pretty blank slate," said Bob Biersack, a commission spokesman.

    The commission invited the public to weigh in on the matter in the next 30 days, and a two-day hearing will be held in April before a decision is reached in May.

    In February, the commission issued an opinion saying certain 527 committees could continue to use soft money for some types of advertising, though it narrowed the circumstances. Most large regulatory questions were put off for the current rule making.

    Though a decision is still months away, the proposal has groups that are often ideological opposites, like the conservative Club for Growth and the left-leaning Sierra Club, united in criticism. -- Election Rules Proposed by Panel May Curb Interest Groups' Work (

    March 4, 2004

    FEC publishes Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regulating 527's and 501(c) organizations

    The Federal Election Commission voted today to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking dealing with expanding the definition of a "political committee" and how those committees can raise and spend money (that is, allocate it among various activities).

    Bob Bauer's website, More Soft Money Hard Law has a lengthy analysis of the proposal along with statements by two of the commissioners.

    If you are hungry for more details, the Office of General Counsel's draft is here. Warning, it is 112 pages long.

    Here is how the AP explains the FEC action:

    Some groups facing possible new restrictions on their fund-raising and spending said Thursday they are prepared to go to court to overturn any broad limits federal election officials might impose.

    The threat came as the Federal Election Commission began work on a proposal that could quash plans by several partisan groups to spend millions of dollars in big donations on this year's elections -- or give them the go-ahead.

    March 2, 2004

    FEC proposal on 527's

    The general counsel's office of the Federal Election Commission has proposed new rules that would threaten plans by Democratic strategists to build a "shadow party" to mobilize voters and run ads this year, according to lawyers and political operatives.

    The proposed regulations -- subject to revision by the FEC over a three-month rulemaking process -- deal with "527" groups, named for the section of the tax code that governs their activities. These groups are allowed to raise and spend "soft money" on campaign activities once handled by the political parties. Democrats have been more active in raising money for the 527 groups, while Republicans have been more successful at raising "hard money" for individual candidates. -- FEC to Consider 'Soft Money' Curbs (

    October 1, 2003

    Party groups don't like proposed FEC rule

    The Hill reports Officials slam proposed FEC rules:

    The Federal Election Commission (FEC) today will consider new regulations that campaign experts warn will make the legal landscape even more difficult for candidates and party operatives still grappling with campaign reforms Congress passed last year.

    Although the proposed regulations are “classic inside baseball,” in the words of one FEC commissioner, they are of vital concern to operatives on every federal campaign because, if adopted, they would have a significant impact on races across the country.

    The new proposals, which are separate from McCain-Feingold, as the 2002 campaign finance law is known, include changes that could dramatically cut down on fundraising trips that party leaders such as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) or icons such as Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) take to help candidates, lawyers for both major parties said.

    They also include complex regulations for the sale, rental and exchange of political mailing lists, which party committees view as their lifeblood. The negotiations have been private transactions in the past, but if the federal government steps in to regulate them, party officials warn it will become substantially more difficult to obtain and provide lists of fresh donors to other committees and candidates.

    Moreover, some say it would open the floodgates to government interference in campaigns and political spending.

    The FEC website does not have the agenda for today's meeting, but you can view my post on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

    August 12, 2003

    Public Financing Rules published

    The FEC has published in the Federal Register the final rules on public financing of presidential candidates and nominating conventions.

    FEC to issue NPRM on candidate travel

    On the agenda for Thursday's FEC meeting is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on reimbursement for candidate travel.

    FEC to adopt new policy on deposition transcripts

    On the FEC agenda for Thursday's meeting is a proposed policy statement on deposition transcripts in nonpublic investigations. According to The Hill, this is a Sign of Things To Come.

    Candidates and witnesses deposed by the FEC’s general counsel will now get access to copies of their depositions rather than, as previously, being forced to read the transcripts at the agency and being banned from taking notes.

    Commissioners hailed that minor step as an important sign that the agency is serious about reviewing and changing practices that have chafed for years.

    August 8, 2003

    FEC to consider changes to rules on contributions and multi-candidate committees

    The FEC General Counsel has circulated proposed regulations on multi-candidate committee status, annual contributions by persons other than multi-candidate committeess to national party committees, and bienniel contributions limits for individuals.

    July 25, 2003

    Leadership PACs

    At Thursday's meeting, the FEC adopted its proposed regulations on "leadership PACs," according to the AP (see the last 2 paragraphs of the story). This article from The Hill explains the changes in more detail. This item was not listed on the agenda for the Thursday meeting.

    July 24, 2003

    Soft money still OK for conventions

    AP reports:

    Federal election regulators decided Thursday to allow corporations and unions to continue making large contributions to finance the two political parties' presidential nominating conventions despite a new law outlawing such donations in elections.

    The Federal Election Commission unanimously ruled that the law passed by Congress last year did not apply to fund raising by the local committees in the host cities that help the parties stage the nominating conventions.

    June 11, 2003

    FEC hearing today on enforcement procedures

    The Hill has a report about the hearing the FEC will be holding today on the revision of its enforcement procedures. Many are pushing to have the FEC act more like other adminstrative agencies in its enforcement actions.

    Here is the schedule of witnesses for the hearing. The Notice of public hearing and request for public comment was published here in the Federal Register. The comments are here.

    June 2, 2003

    FEC hearing on Presidential public financing

    The FEC has a News Release on the schedule for the 6 June public hearing on Presidential public financing. The Commission proposed a revised rule regarding payments to presidential campaigns and national party conventions, which you can see here.

    Written comments filed are here.

    February 5, 2003

    Millionaire's amendment effect in Illinois

    The Chicago Sun-Times reports that "Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Blair Hull has poured $1.3 million of his own money directly into his bid, enough to trigger new federal rules intended to level the playing field in races with rich, self-financed candidates."

    February 3, 2003

    FEC supplements Guides with BCRA information

    The Federal Election Commission has issued a 24-page BCRA Campaign Guide Supplement, designed to be placed with your copy of the various Campaign Guides.

    January 24, 2003

    BCRA Millionaire's Amendment rules

    The Federal Election Commission has posted the interim rules for "Increased Contribution and Coordinated Party Expenditure Limits for Candidates Opposing Self-Financed Candidates (a.k.a. Millionaires’ Amendment)" -- all 143 pages in Word format. You can get them here.

    Federal Election Commission revised forms

    The Federal Election Commission website has the draft forms for compliance with the BCRA. These will be considered at the 30 January meeting of the Commission.

    January 17, 2003

    FEC advisory opinion to Libertarians

    This story on the AP wire gives more details about the FEC decision yesterday. Apparently, the Commission agreed with Weintraub's proposal about the sale of mailing lists because there is a thriving commercial market in mailing lists, but rejected it as to ads and licenses for logos because of the problems in trying to determine if the price was reasonable or was a disguised contribution.

    January 9, 2003

    Leadership PACs

    I was attending a conference on campaign law today. One of the speakers who is quite knowledgeable about the FEC said that he doubted that the FEC would actually adopt the Leadership PAC rule it has published for comment. However, when I got back to the hotel room and read The Hill online, it had an article about the proposed rule. The article points out that Bradley Smith, a former law professor who has written frequently that the FECA violates the First Amendment, and Michael Toner, former GOP general counsel, are two of the folks who seem to be behind the Leadership PAC rule. To review the proposed rule, click here.

    January 8, 2003

    more FEC rules for BCRA

    The FEC has published the final rules for Reporting and Independent and Coordinated Expenditures.

    January 7, 2003

    FEC regs on Consolidated Reporting

    The FEC has issued its regulations on all reporting requirements under the BCRA.

    December 23, 2002

    BCRA draft forms

    The FEC has released draft forms to be used for reporting under the BCRA.

    December 20, 2002

    FEC and the Millionaire Opponent regs

    AP would have us believe FEC wraps change to campaign finance law. While the FEC is claiming to have finished its Congressionally-mandated regulatory changes to comply with the BCRA, in fact it is still at work on regulations. The FEC has published a proposed set of regs (a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) on "leadership PACs." Read 'em here.

    Back to the so-called "Millionaire's Amendment" -- I prefer the term "Millionaire Opponent provision." The interim final regs are 142 typed, double-space pages with a 35 page example. Ellen Weintraub, the Commission chair, has suggested the staff ought to tighten up the verbiage a bit before the final-final regs are issued. While I can't point you to the actual adopted regs, here is the agenda for yesterday's meeting with links to the draft (and a correction).

    November 26, 2002

    More on the FEC and Salaries for Candidates

    The New York Times and Tom Edsall in the Washington Post have articles today about the FEC decision to allow congressional campaigns to pay candidates a salary.

    The NYT article also mentions a restriction on Internet campaigning. This had escaped my notice. I will have to review this.

    November 25, 2002

    FEC regulations on candidate salaries.

    The title says it all: FEC Votes to Let Candidates Pay Themselves Salaries Using Campaign Funds ( Note that one commissioner dissented because the regulation will allow the salaries paid to two candidates for the same office to be different: the campaign salary must be the lesser of the salary of the office sought or the salary of the last job the candidate held.