Plan for Candidate Contracts Approved by FEC

By Kenneth P. Doyle

A progressive organization called Citizens Against Plutocracy will be able to ask congressional candidates to sign a “Contract for American Renewal” under an advisory opinion (AO 2017-10) approved by the Federal Election Commission Sept. 20.

A super political action committee linked to the group plans to ask candidates to sign a contract committing to positions on a range of legislative issues and stating a pledge to resign if a candidate doesn’t abide by the contract. The contract would call on candidates to support such items as a minimum wage increase, free public college tuition, public financing of election campaigns and other liberal positions, according to the group’s website.

The advisory opinion request sent to the FEC by Citizens Against Plutocracy leader Victor Tiffany asked if the organization’s plan would violate campaign finance rules barring coordination between a super PAC and a candidate it supports.

‘Content’ vs. ‘Conduct’

The FEC released two draft advisory opinions before a Sept. 20 commission meeting at which the final ruling was considered. Though both drafts said the proposed plan conforms to FEC rules, Republican and Democratic commissioners struggled to agree on a rationale for the agency’s response.

Commissioners holding Democratic seats said the request for a candidate to sign a contract wasn’t enough to trigger the “content” prong of the FEC’s complex rules defining illegally coordinated communications.

Republican FEC commissioners emphasized the plan wouldn’t trigger the “conduct” prong of coordination rules because of the group’s plans to communicate over the internet. Internet communications have fewer restrictions than other types of messages under FEC rules.

Apology for Delay

After an hour of wrangling behind the scenes, the commissioners agreed to a final ruling incorporating elements of both drafts.

The FEC voted 4-0 to approve the ruling, with FEC Chairman Steven Walther, who holds a Democratic seat on the commission, abstaining.

Walther apologized to Tiffany, the advisory opinion requester, for the FEC’s delay in considering the ruling. Tiffany had waited on a phone line for the FEC meeting to convene. Requesters routinely are invited to participate in FEC meetings to answer questions about advisory opinions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.