Generally, if an individual who works for a corporation or labor organization provides services to a political committee, including a campaign, during paid working hours, the employing corporation or labor organization makes a contribution to the committee. Such contributions are subject to the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act’s) contribution limits and are prohibited if paid for by a corporation or labor organization.
An employee or stockholder of a corporation, or a member or official of a labor organization, may make occasional, isolated or incidental use of corporate or labor organization facilities for his or her own individual volunteer activities in connection with a federal election. “Occasional, isolated or incidental use” is considered use of facilities for no more than one hour per week or four hours per month, or more than that amount if the activity:
- Does not prevent the employee from completing the normal amount of work expected of him or her;
- Does not increase the overhead or operating costs of the corporation or labor organization; and
- Is not performed under coercion.
For example, an employee may use an office phone to make calls that pertain to political volunteer work. If the volunteer activity is limited to incidental use of the facilities, the volunteer does not have to reimburse the organization for the use of the facilities, and only must reimburse the organization to the extent that his or her activity increased the corporation or labor organization’s overhead or operating costs.
This safe harbor does not apply when the employee is asked by a superior to do the volunteer work as a part of his/her regular duties.
Activity exceeding incidental use
When the individual’s use of facilities exceeds incidental use, the individual must, within a commercially reasonable time, reimburse the corporation or labor organization for the usual and normal rental charge for facility use. Such reimbursement is considered an in-kind contribution from the individual and must be reported by the benefiting campaign or political committee.
Internet volunteer activities
An uncompensated individual or group of individuals may engage in certain voluntary Internet activities for the purpose of influencing a federal election. These exempted activities would not result in a contribution or an expenditure under the Act and would not trigger any registration or reporting requirements with the FEC. This exemption applies to individuals or groups of individuals acting with or without the knowledge or consent of a campaign or a political party committee. Exempted Internet activities include, but are not limited to, sending or forwarding electronic mail, providing a hyperlink to a website, creating, maintaining or hosting a website and paying a nominal fee for the use of a website.
Use of employer’s computer and Internet access
A corporation or labor organization may permit its employees, shareholders, officials and members to use its computer and Internet facilities for individual volunteer Internet activity, without making a prohibited contribution. The individual volunteer must comply with the corporation or labor organization’s internal policies for computer and Internet use, and must complete the normal amount of work for which the employee is paid, or is expected to perform. Also, the activity must not increase the overhead or operating costs of the organization, and the activity must not be coerced. The organization may not condition the availability of the Internet or the computer on their being used for political activity or for support for or opposition to any particular candidate or political party.
Not exempt: Paid web communications
If a person, group or political committee pays a fee to place a communication on another person or entity’s website, the communication is considered general public political advertising, and thus qualifies as a public communication. As such, it may require a disclaimer and may be a contribution and/or expenditure.