Ready for Ron (R4R), a hybrid committee that has collected the names and contact information of thousands of potential supporters in a petition encouraging Governor Ron DeSantis (the Governor) to run for President, may not provide that information to the Governor free of charge if he either becomes a federal candidate or begins testing the waters for a potential federal candidacy. The Commission could not approve a response by the required four votes as to whether that information may otherwise be provided to the Governor when he is neither testing the waters nor a federal candidate.
Background and Question
R4R is a hybrid committee, accepting contributions subject to the Federal Election Campaign Act's (the Act) source prohibitions and contribution limits to a contribution account as well as unlimited contributions from individuals into a non-contribution account. R4R plans to use funds from its contribution and non-contribution accounts to fund a nationwide petition drive encouraging the Governor to seek the presidency in 2024. Supporters may "sign" the petition online or by phone, providing names, phone numbers, email addresses and zip codes. As a result of its outreach efforts, R4R expects to receive contact information from over a million "virtual" signatories and plans to submit the petition and accompanying contact information to the Governor. R4R states that neither it nor its agents are coordinating with the Governor, his campaign, or any federal or state political committees authorized by the Governor.
R4R asked if it may provide the petition and contact information to the Governor in order to persuade him to become, and subsequently remain, a candidate for President in the 2024 election, and further if it must do so before the Governor starts testing the waters or becomes a candidate.
Based on the market value of political contact information, R4R estimates the value of the petition would exceed $2,900. Because the compiled contact information is a thing of value, and the Commission has long found that a committee providing such a list at less than the usual and normal charge would result in an in-kind contribution, the Commission concluded that providing the list to the Governor after he becomes a federal candidate, should he do so, would exceed the Act's contribution limits.
The Commission’s “testing the waters” regulations state that funds received solely for the purpose of determining whether one should run for office are not contributions, but if the individual testing the waters subsequently becomes a candidate, the funds received are contributions subject to the reporting requirements of the Act. In addition, under Commission regulations all funds raised and spent during the testing the waters period must comply with the Act’s limits and prohibitions. Accordingly, the Commission concluded that providing the list to the Governor after he begins testing the waters for a federal candidacy (should he do so) would be contrary to Commission regulations. Furthermore, R4R’s proposal to provide this list to the Governor in the event he becomes a candidate or begins testing the waters would run counter to the restrictions on the use of funds from a hybrid PAC’s non-contribution account.
The Commission could not approve a response by the required four votes as to whether R4R may provide the information from its petition to the Governor when he is neither testing the waters nor a federal candidate. Governor DeSantis was not a party to the request, and the Commission expressed no view on whether he may be engaged in activity that would constitute testing the waters for a potential federal candidacy. The Commission further expressed no opinion regarding the application of any state laws to R4R’s proposal because those laws are not within the Commission’s jurisdiction.
Date issued: September 28, 2022; Length: 11 pages