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  • FEC Record: Advisory opinions

AO 2018-03: Candidate may not use campaign funds to pay legal fees in lawsuit by voters

May 1, 2018

The Committee to Elect Michael Gilmore (the Committee) may not use campaign funds to pay certain legal expenses for a lawsuit concerning the scheduling of a special election because the payment would constitute a personal use of campaign funds. Furthermore, the Committee is not required to report the value of proposed volunteer services for the lawsuit as an in-kind contribution, because the services would not be provided to influence a federal election.

Background

On December 27, 2017, Michael Gilmore (the Candidate) filed a lawsuit on behalf of five registered voters in Michigan’s 13th district, alleging that the failure to hold a more timely special election violated their constitutional rights. Although the Committee is not party to the lawsuit, the Candidate asked if the Committee may use campaign funds for the expenses of the lawsuit, including fees paid to the Candidate’s law firm for his legal representation of the plaintiffs. The Candidate further asked if the value of his, or other individuals’, voluntary services toward the suit constitute a contribution to the Committee, subject to reporting and limitations.

Analysis

The Commission concluded that the Committee may not use campaign funds to pay the legal expenses of the lawsuit. Although campaign funds may be used to defray expenses incurred in proceedings that directly relate to the candidate’s campaign activities or officeholder duties, these expenses relate to the Candidate’s representation of certain individuals in a suit concerning their constitutional rights. The Candidate’s role in the litigation is not in his capacity as candidate, but instead in his professional capacity as legal counsel, and any incidental benefit that the Committee may derive from victory in the lawsuit does not establish that the expenses would exist irrespective of the campaign. Thus, using Committee funds to pay the Candidate’s firm for legal expenses would constitute an impermissible conversion of campaign funds to personal use.

Finally, the value of proposed voluntary services in connection with the lawsuit would not constitute an in-kind contribution because there is no indication that such services would be for the purpose of influencing a federal election. These services would be rendered not in support of the Candidate’s election, but instead in support of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleging violations of their constitutional rights. As a result, the Commission concluded that the Committee would not be required to report the value of the services as an in-kind contribution.

Date issued: April 30, 2018; Length: 5 pages

Citations

Regulations

11 CFR 100.52(a)
Definition of contribution

11 CFR 113.1(g)
Personal use

Resources

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