AO 2022-10: Web-based contribution platform may use FEC data to provide information to donors
Sprinkle, a for-profit company, may provide contribution processing services to contributors without making a contribution to recipient candidates. Furthermore, when providing information to those contributors to aid in decision making, Sprinkle may supplement its services using FEC data without violating the sale and use provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act).
Sprinkle is a for-profit internet platform that will provide a variety of online tools to its users that help filter candidates by issues, location, voting records, scorecards from advocacy organizations and more. Among these tools are a proprietary algorithm based on publicly available data that can recommend candidates to users based on user-provided information. As part of its services, Sprinkle plans to display data from publicly available campaign finance reports filed with the Commission in order to help users see how campaigns are funded, including average contribution amount, geographic concentration, and individual versus organizational support.
Each federal candidate with an authorized committee will have a page hosted by Sprinkle which will enable users to obtain additional information about candidates they may be supporting. Sprinkle will not allow candidates to add content to their pages for any purpose other than enhancing quality and accuracy of the information provided, and each page will include a link allowing users to make contributions to the candidate.
Sprinkle will partner with a commercial payment processor to provide all processing services. Sprinkle will not process contributions, deposit funds into a merchant account, or forward contributions to candidates, but will rely on the vendor to provide these services. Sprinkle will deduct a fee of approximately 10% from each contribution to cover all costs incurred by itself and its processing vendor. Sprinkle asks if its services will result in prohibited contributions and if its business model will result in impermissible sale or use of Commission data.
The Commission has determined on several occasions that companies that process contributions as a service to contributors while providing tools to gather information about and evaluate candidates are not making contributions to candidates because they are not providing services to recipient political committees. Sprinkle's service closely resembles those approved by the Commission in previous opinions, and because of this, the Commission concluded that its proposed model would not result in prohibited contributions from Sprinkle.
When determining whether a proposed sale or use of FEC data is permissible, the Commission focuses on whether the sale or use of the data "implicate[s] the privacy concerns" of the law. The Commission has approved the sale or use of contributor data when such use would not disclose sufficient information to generate solicitations. Because Sprinkle's use would aggregate information such as "average contribution amount, geographic concentration of donor support, and individual versus organizational support," and would not allow users or others to access identifiable information about any particular donor, the Commission concluded that Sprinkle's proposal would not violate the sale or use restrictions of the Act.
Date Issued: July 28, 2022; Length: 8 pages