Charity Talk

Posted June 11, 2004 at 4:22pm

The Federal Election Commission last week said Members of Congress may appear in televised public service announcements sponsored by charitable organizations without running afoul of campaign finance restrictions. [IMGCAP(1)]

The commission voted 5-1 to approve an advisory opinion requested by Rep. Tom Davis. The Virginia Republican sought permission to appear in two short PSAs promoting a golf tournament benefiting the National Kidney Foundation. The spots were to be broadcast on cable by Cox Communications and Comcast in Davis’ Northern Virginia district.

The FEC action means a lawmaker may participate in a PSA for a charitable golf tournament without violating the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act’s restrictions on coordinated communications. Davis said his office would pay for the production costs, while the time would be provided free of charge by cable outlets.

FEC Commissioner Scott Thomas dissented, saying he was concerned that the charity may be providing an in-kind contribution with the production of the PSA.

Go West, Young Democrats. The FEC also unanimously approved a request by nine Western Democratic parties to join forces and form a regional party organization.

In approving the advisory opinion, the commissioners ruled that Democrats for the West is a state committee of a political party. The party committees forming the new organization are from Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The commission said that under federal rules, Democrats for the West will be considered connected to each of the state parties that belong to it. The interpretation means that hard-money donations to the group from individuals and political action committees will count against the state parties’ federal contribution limits.

Hard-money fundraising can include donations of up to $10,000 each from individuals and up to $5,000 each from political action committees. The group can also raise unlimited soft-money donations from corporations, unions and others, but cannot spend such funds on federal election activities.

DFW officials said they hope to help rebuild Democrats’ power in the region, which has long been dominated by Republicans. The organization told the FEC it plans to raise money, conduct research, polling and candidate training, and hold conferences.

— Damon Chappie