Citizens United Asks FEC to Review Spending Rules on E-Mail Lists

Posted November 8, 2010 at 8:37pm

The conservative group Citizens United is asking the Federal Election Commission to review rules limiting coordination between campaign committees and outside groups.

The nonprofit, which won a landmark Supreme Court ruling in January that allowed corporations and unions to spend nearly $200 million during the midterm elections, filed a request with the FEC just before voters went to the polls Tuesday.

The letter asked whether laws governing coordinated expenditures and communications should limit corporations from renting their e-mail subscriber lists to federal candidates, political party committees or political action committees. At issue is whether the rentals of such lists would go against laws designed to keep spending between campaigns and corporations separate.

Renting mailing lists has occurred for years between campaigns, committees and vendors, but it has been a much less frequent practice by outside groups.

During the last few election cycles, at least 28 campaigns and committees have spent more than $400,000 to rent out e-mail lists, according to FEC records. The largest renter of such lists is a conservative organization called Americans for New Leadership, which has paid more than $280,000 to eight groups to rent their e-mail lists.

The practice has been common for lawmakers from both parties. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) rented an e-mail list from Townhall.com for $10,000 in June for his PAC, Senate Conservatives Fund. Then-Sen. Joseph Biden’s (D-Del.) Unite Our States PAC rented an e-mail list from America Coming Together in 2006 for $4,000.

The request is not a major concern for the campaign finance community because Citizens United is asking for the fair market value of its list and does not intend the transaction to be an in-kind contribution. “Citizens United’s receipt of fair market value eliminates any receipt of a contribution by candidates or parties that are using the list,” said Paul Ryan, associate legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center.