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  • FEC Record: Advisory opinions

AO 2015-15: Website may help users make contributions to federal candidates

February 4, 2016

A corporation may establish a website designed to help users identify candidates whose actions they support. If they choose, users may contribute to those candidates through the website.

Background

WeSupportThat.com is a for-profit corporation that proposes to offer an internet-based service through which users will be able to support or oppose certain actions of federal candidates. It plans to create a website that allows users to find, research and contribute to candidates based on their legislative votes, sponsorship of bills and public statements.

The requestor’s website will focus on current events and will feature activities and candidates that are gaining the most media interest. The website will provide to users who select a featured activity information about candidates associated with that activity. If there are candidates on both sides of an issue, the user will be able to click a button labeled "I support this" or "I don't support this" to bring up a list of candidates who align with the user’s views. Then those users will be able to make contributions to one or more of the listed candidates by selecting the “contribute now” button.

WeSupportThat.com plans to collect each contributor''s necessary disclosure information and require each user to confirm that he or she may lawfully make the contribution. The corporation will also request the contributing user''s credit or debit card information. It plans to cover its costs and make a profit by assessing a processing fee. The user’s credit or debit card will be charged for the full amount and proceeds deposited into two separate bank accounts — one for the processing fee and another that will be used exclusively for contributions. WeSupportThat.com will forward all contributions and contributor information to candidate committees within 10 days of receipt. The requestor plans to advertise its services through online banner ads and on Facebook and Google.

The requestor will not offer its services to candidates or their committees, nor will it receive payment from recipient committees. The requestor also will not “advanc[e] any particular issue, position on an issue, or any political outcome.”

WeSupportThat.com asked the Commission whether its proposed business plan complies with the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations and whether the user''s payment of a processing fee to the corporation constitutes a contribution to the recipient candidate committee.

Analysis

The Act and Commission regulations prohibit a corporation from making a contribution in connection with a federal election. See 52 U.S.C. § 30118(a); 11 CFR 114.2(b)(l). A contribution includes "any direct or indirect payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or gift of money, or any services, or anything of value...to any candidate, [or] campaign committee...in connection with any [federal] election... ." 52 U.S.C. § 30118(b)(2); 11 CFR 114.2(b)(1); see also 52 U.S.C. § 30101(8)(A)(i); 11 CFR 100.52(a).

The Commission has previously concluded that entities that process contributions as a service to contributors, and not to the recipient political committees, are not making contributions to those committees. See, e.g., AO 2014-07 (Crowdpac) at 6 (distinguishing between companies that process contributions as service to contributors and companies that process contributions as service to recipient political committees); AO 2012-22 (skimmerhat) at 4-6 (same); AO 2011-19 (GivingSphere) at 7 (same); AO 2011-06 (Democracy Engine) at 5 (same). The requestor’s proposed service differs from those previously approved by the Commission in that the requestor’s website and advertising will list certain candidate activities that the requestor believes are most likely to motivate individuals to use its website to make contributions. The requestor’s proposal, however, does not raise concerns that the requestor is selecting candidate recipients to influence the outcome of the election. Accordingly, under the circumstances presented in the request, the requestor’s proposed business plan complies with the Act and Commission regulations.

The Commission further concludes that the fees will not be in-kind contributions to the recipient committees because the fees paid to the requestor "are for services rendered for the benefit of the contributors, not of the recipient political committees,” and thus, “such fees do not relieve the recipient political committees of a financial burden they would otherwise have had to pay for themselves." AO 2014-07 (Crowdpac) at 6; AO 2011-06 (Democracy Engine) at 6.

Date issued: 01/14/2016; 6 pages

Resources:

  • Author 
    • Alex Knott
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