The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) may establish convention committees to raise funds subject to separate contribution limits because such convention committees qualify as “national committees” under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations.
The DNC and the RNC (the Committees) are national party committees that raise contributions for the day-to-day operations of their respective parties. They asked the Commission whether the committees they establish to finance their presidential nominating conventions have a separate contribution limit under the Act. See 52 U.S.C. §§ 30101-30146 (formerly 2 U.S.C. §§ 431-457).
Until recently, the Presidential Election Campaign Act (the Funding Statute) entitled eligible party committees to receive a public grant to finance their nominating conventions. Most recently, in 2012, each major party’s convention committee received an inflation adjusted grant of $17,689,800 from the United States Treasury. See 26 U.S.C. § 9008.
Effective April 3, 2014, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act ended the parties’ entitlement to public funds. See 26 U.S.C. § 9008(i). As a result, the Committees’ request states that they now “must identify private sources of funding for their presidential nominating conventions.”
The Committees each propose to raise convention funds for deposit into a segregated account, or to establish a convention committee to raise and spend convention funds, which they believe should have its own separate contribution limit under the Act.
A “national committee” of a political party is an organization which, “by virtue of the bylaws of a political party, is responsible for the day-to-day operation of such political party at the national level, as determined by the Commission.” See 52 U.S.C. § 30101(14) (formerly 2 U.S.C. § 431(14)); 11 CFR 100.13. The Act and Commission regulations contemplate that this definition can include, at minimum, each party’s House and Senate committees, and each has separate contribution limits. See 52 U.S.C. § 30125(a)(1) (formerly 2 U.S.C. § 441i(a)(1)); 11 CFR 110.1(c)(2). In determining whether a committee qualifies as a national committee of a political party, the Commission has generally considered two questions. The first is whether the party itself meets the definition of “political party” at 52 U.S.C. § 30101(16) (formerly 2 U.S.C. § 431(16); and the second is whether the committee has demonstrated significant activity at a national level.
The Democratic and Republican parties are both well-established political parties, so the analysis here turns on whether the convention committees conduct sufficient activity at the national level. The Commission has looked at several factors to make that determination, including whether the committee nominates candidates for federal offices in a number of states, engages in ongoing party activities, publicizes issues of importance to the party, holds a national convention and establishes a national office with state affiliates.
Applying those criteria to the convention committees, the Commission determined that they essentially satisfy all of the factors that the Commission considers in determining “national committee” status. Under FEC regulations, convention committees are “responsible for conducting the day to day arrangements and operations” of “a convention, caucus or other meeting ... held by a political party at the national level.” 11 CFR 9008.2(g) and 9008.3(a)(2). The conventions also include party-building activities, such as adoption of party rules and platforms, and give nationwide publicity to issues of importance to the party. Additionally, having been held every four years for more than 150 years, the conventions also qualify as ongoing activities.
As national committees, the convention committees may collect contributions equal to the limits placed on other national party committees – $15,000 per calendar year from each multicandidate political committee and $32,400 (adjusted for inflation) per calendar year from an individual or non-multicandidate committee. See 52 U.S.C. § 30116(a)(1)(B), (2)(B) (formerly 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1)(B), (2)(B)); 11 CFR 110.1(c)(1), 110.2(c)(1). These limits are separate from those that apply to other national party committees.
The Committees stipulated in the advisory opinion request that convention committees would use their funds “solely to pay for the same types of convention expenses for which public funds were previously used,” and not “for candidate advocacy” or “for general party building expenses.” See 26 U.S.C. § 9008(c); 11 CFR 9008.7(a)-(b)(1).
Date issued: October 9, 2014; 7 pages.