In a unanimous vote, the Federal Election Commission ruled Thursday that members of Congress and federal candidates cannot raise funds for independent expenditure committees beyond the federal limit of $5,000.
The decision today is a setback for so-called “Super PACs” on both sides of the aisle that had hoped to harness the star power of popular politicians for financial gain.
Last month, Democratic groups Majority PAC and House Majority PAC filed a joint request for an advisory opinion from the FEC, asking the Commission to determine whether federal officeholders and candidates, as well as national party officers could solicit unlimited donations for Super PACs, citing a proposal by a Republican Super PAC -- called, unsurprisingly, the Republican Super PAC -- to do so.
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In their decision today, the FEC ruled that while federal politicians may attend fundraising events for Super PACs, they remain subject to federal laws restricting the amount of money they can solicit on behalf of donors for political committees.
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Another advisory opinion draft considered today prevented federal officeholders and candidates from soliciting donations of any amount on behalf of Super PACs. The FEC’s decision to allow solicitations up to $5,000 was a lucky one for House Majority PAC -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) have already sent out fundraising letters on behalf of the committees, asking for donations up to that amount.
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The Republican Super PAC, which was founded by Indiana attorney Jim Bopp last month, signaled their intention to have political parties and candidates solicit unlimited donations on the committee’s behalf, according to an invitation for a May 18 organizational meeting. Bopp, who helped create super PACs as a lead attorney on both the SpeechNow.org and Citizens United decisions, has made it his business to push the legal limits on super PACs in order to better define the boundaries of what is permissible.
Majority PAC and House Majority attached a copy of Bopp’s invitation to their advisory opinion request, essentially telling the FEC that if Republicans could have politicians raise unlimited funds for a Super PAC, they wanted to do so as well.
In comments to the FEC, Bopp said the idea that Democratic organization would push for broader campaign finance rules is a major policy shift in itself.
“It means they see no inherent corruption, appearance of corruption, circumvention or other public-policy evil in a PAC operating in this fashion,” Bopp wrote. “Rather they embrace the concept and seek guidance on the possible technical problem.”
Though Democrats have decried the use of unlimited donations in federal elections, since their losses in the midterm elections, in which Super PAC advertising by Republican-aligned groups played such a large role, the party appears to stepping away from that policy. Though Democrats say they remain committed to ending the influence of soft money in politics, the founding of Majority PAC and House Majority PAC last year and this advisory opinion request are signs that they will nonetheless take advantage of it in order to remain competitive.
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Yochi Dreazen contributed