FEC Opens Door for Corporations to Give In-Kind Campaign Donations


The Federal Election Commission on Thursday approved an advisory opinion allowing Microsoft Corp. to offer political candidates and campaigns online security protections against possible foreign hackers free of cost, a move that could set a precedent of allowing businesses to make in-kind contributions.

The FEC concluded that Microsoft’s proposal to offer a package of “enhanced online account security services to electronic-sensitive customers” at no cost and on a nonpartisan basis wouldn’t constitute as an illegal in-kind donation because it’s not being made for political purposes. The approval comes weeks after Microsoft requested an opinion to ensure that its free online security package for “election-sensitive” customers doesn’t count as an in-kind campaign contribution, which companies are banned from making under long-standing anti-corruption laws.

While the advisory opinion pertains specifically to Microsoft, it could set a precedent for other companies to provide goods or services free of charge under the guise that they’re doing it for business purposes, according to the Campaign Legal Center. “Despite the FEC’s attempt to limit its ruling to this particular situation, somebody with less beneficial motives in the future could exploit the ruling, and that would be problematic,” Adav Noti, the senior director at the Campaign Legal Center said in an interview with Sludge Friday.

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