Another Attempt to Evade Campaign Finance Law Challenged by Watchdogs


Today, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed comments urging the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to reject an attempt by National Defense Committee (NDC) to avoid registering as a political committee and revealing its donors if it runs a series of advertisements expressly advocating the election or defeat of federal candidates.  The 501(c)(4) organization submitted an advisory opinion request (AOR 2012-27) proposing a series of advertisement scripts that clearly meet the definition of “express advocacy” and then asked the Commission whether it intends to enforce the regulation defining “express advocacy” (11 C.F.R. § 100.22(b)), implying that it is no longer valid but offering no credible legal argument to back up the claim.

“The legal argument offered by NDC is based on outdated court decisions.  NDC ignores recent decisions related to the law and neglects altogether to mention the Supreme Court’s decision in Wisconsin Right to Life, in which the court defined the ‘functional equivalent of express advocacy’ using a definition nearly identical to the regulation NDC argues the FEC should not enforce,” said Paul S. Ryan, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “This is just the latest in a recent rash of filings with the FEC and in the courts attempting to undermine the modest disclosure provisions still in effect.  Clearly this effort reveals that there are some people and organizations out there looking to spend a lot of money to pick winners and losers in our elections without revealing their identities to American voters.”

The regulation (11 C.F.R. § 100.22(b)) being questioned by NDC deals with sham issue ads that do not say “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate, but “could only be interpreted by a reasonable person as containing advocacy of the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidate(s).”

NDC also proposed a series of donation communications in its AOR, asking whether they would constitute solicitations of contributions under federal campaign finance law.  Finally, NDC asked the FEC whether it would be required to register as a political committee, but provided the Commission with insufficient information to make a determination as to the group’s political committee status.

The filing today by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 urged the Commission to advise NDC that it will continue to enforce section 100.22(b), that a number of the proposed ads do in fact constitute express advocacy, that several of its proposed donation requests constitute solicitations of contributions, and that NDC has failed to provide the Commission with sufficient information to determine whether NDC will need to register as a political committee.

To read the comments filed today by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here.