FEC to make a ruling over politicking on the Web

Feds to make a ruling over politicking on the Web

By RUDY TAKALA (@RUDYTAKALA) • 9/14/16 12:01 AM

A political action committee is looking to figure out whether it can safely use the Internet to support national political candidates, or whether the Federal Election Commission might seize the opportunity to impose the kind of regulations Democrats have been striving to attain.

The request for an advisory opinion, filed on behalf of Citizen Super PAC, asks the FEC whether it would be permissible to email supporters of a candidate's campaign, or whether that would cross a line prohibiting coordination with candidates.

"If a PAC mails out 1,000 letters soliciting funds for a candidate to its mailing list, then the cost of those mailers constitute either an independent expenditure or an in-kind contribution to the candidate if the letter was sent in coordination between the PAC and the candidate," explained Chris Gober, a co-founder of the PAC.

"In contrast, if the same PAC sends 100,000 emails to their own email list soliciting funds for the same candidate, then neither the cost of that email nor the utilization of the email list is treated as an independent expenditure or an in-kind contribution to the candidate."

Super PACs, named for their ability to accept unlimited funds and make unlimited expenditures to influence federal races, have a limited ability to work with candidates in the real world, Gober pointed out. Candidates can speak at fundraisers for the organizations, and they can solicit contributions for the PACs up to $5,000.

Citizen Super PAC is charting new territory in the digital frontier. The organization allows users to set up pages on its website to raise funds for candidates that users support, in what it calls an effort to "democratize" political spending and "increase participation in the political marketplace."

Gober is seeking to take that initiative to the next level by asking candidates for their email lists, beginning with Nevada Republican Rep. Joe Heck, for whom a user recently established a page. If a fundraising target for Heck of $10,000 is met as a result of that collaboration, Gober will try to figure out whether the organization can safely spend that money on Facebook ads in support of his re-election campaign.

"The ad supporting Rep. Heck happens to be the first one around the time the advisory opinion request was ready to be submitted," Gober said, adding the PAC "hopes to launch additional projects in the near future that will be implicated" by the FEC's response.

FEC commissioners have battled with each other for the past several years over whether campaign finance regulations should extend to content on the Internet. Democrats have advocated for expanding the agency's power, arguing that social networking websites such as Twitter and new media outlets like the Drudge Report are wielding undue influence.

Democrats could be conflicted in their response to Gober's filing due to its implications for Correct the Record, a super PAC founded by left-wing operative David Brock in support of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. In a quest to elude campaign finance regulations, the organization has successfully argued that it should be exempt from anti-coordination laws as long as communications it receives from Clinton's campaign are being transmitted openly on the Internet.

Gober said the activity wasn't an exact match with what Citizen Super PAC is attempting to accomplish, but that the Clinton supporters should be watching. "The rules governing 'coordination' do not place a blanket prohibition on all forms of communication between a candidate and a super PAC, and we are certainly seeking more clarification as to where to draw the lines of distinction.

"And while this advisory opinion could have a tangential impact on super PACs that are already using the 'publicly available information' exception to their strategic benefit … Citizen Super PAC's kickstarter-style fundraising and proposed communications with federal candidates extend beyond what any other PACs are engaging in at this moment in time," he added.


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