Home Depot Wants to Pin Down FEC on Request

Posted May 2, 2003 at 2:44pm

Home Depot shoppers are used to seeing the company’s employees proudly wearing an array of apron pins commemorating everything from Tony Stewart’s NASCAR win to a special “Standing United” pin commemorating the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11.

Now the world’s largest home improvement retailer wants to add another special apron pin to its collection — but that depends on the Federal Election Commission.

“The Home Depot PAC would like to distribute a pin to members of its restricted class as a token of appreciation for making a contribution to the PAC,” D.C. lawyers for the company wrote in a recent letter to the campaign watchdog agency. A restricted class is a corporation’s stockholders, executives and other administrative personnel.

The pin, 1 1/2 inches long, depicts the Capitol Dome atop the familiar orange Home Depot logo with the word “PAC” appearing beneath the orange square.

The Home Depot Better Government Committee, established in 1993, raised more than $575,000 last election cycle, with the majority of its contributions going to the Republican Party. The Georgia-based political action committee gave $203,500 in contributions — 68.5 percent of its total support for federal candidates — to Republicans last cycle. Democrats received $93,500.

But Home Depot will have to wait for a ruling from the FEC in this murky area before it can send the pin out to its PAC contributors with a thank you message.

Similar requests have been brought before the FEC. In 1981, the commission authorized a labor organization PAC to distribute jackets bearing the PAC’s insignia to its members.

In 1989, a Florida bank asked the FEC if it could distribute lapel pins to its contributors depicting the Capitol buildings in D.C. and Tallahassee with the phrases “First Florida Partners for Good Government” and “I BACK THE PAC.” In a draft advisory opinion rejected by commissioners, the FEC’s general counsel said a pin with the phrase “I BACK THE PAC” was an impermissible message encouraging support and soliciting contributions. But the general counsel stated that removing the words “I BACK THE PAC” would make it OK. An alternative opinion that would have allowed the pins to be worn as they were was never voted on.

In their letter to the FEC, lawyers for Home Depot argue that the company’s pin should be allowed, as it contains “no express statement of support for the PAC” and “only a shortened version of the PAC’s full name.”

The lawyers say that less than 5 percent of all Home Depot employees belong to the PAC. And even fewer PAC members actually wear their shop aprons more than four times a year at corporate events because they are in management positions, they note.

The pin “is unlikely to be seen by very many employees outside the restricted class and only in rare circumstances would it be seen by a member of the general public,” attorney Brett Kappel wrote.