Political Contributions
March 16, 2004 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Making the most of politcal contributions - how? If one wishes to contibute something financially to help in this years presidential race, where would that money be best sent? Directly to the campaign? To a PAC or other group? To a Party Headquarters? What about limits, personal fund-raisers? There are a lot of vague-sounding rules and unknowns out there, wondering if anyone else on here has negotiated them.
posted by kokogiak to Law & Government (6 answers total)
Contributions will be determined by whomever you give them to. If you donate to John Kerry or George Bush, odds are all your money will be used specifically for his campaign. A donation to the DNC might go partially to Kerry but also to local Democratic races with distribution handled as that group's leaders see fit.

According to spending rules, Kerry/Bush have no authority over other groups. MoveOn can do whatever it wants, but it would be illegal for them to actually work with Kerry and his campaign. Technically, CFR limits any group, such as MoveOn, from directly endorsing/opposing a candidate. The only ads specifically suggesting a vote for someone will be those funded by the candidates themselves, with new rules now easily identified by the ending "I'm so-and-so and I approve this message."

A direct personal donation to any major candidate is limited to $2,000. I believe PACs/"527" groups such as MoveOn, the NRA, etc. as well as the major parties have no restrictions, hence why major companies donate in the multi-thousands to them.

Many blogs have started on-site grassroots fundraising; if you check out Daily Kos or Atrios right now you'll see they've started group fundraisers that have generated almost $15,000 each for Kerry.

So, basically, give money to whatever you specifically support. If your main goal is getting Bush elected, donate directly to Bush's campaign. If you're major goal is protecting women's rights, then donate to NOW or NARAL.

Gratuitous plug: My personal political activism system of choice is in the passive form of Working Assets, the financial-funding branch of WorkingForChange. If you acquire long distance, cell phone service, or credit cards through them, it's the same as always with the exception of 1-2% of your bill going to progressive groups.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:36 AM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: I was wondering about direct contributions as well - specifically in the case of something like the fundraising done on Daily Kos - as far as I can tell, that is simply a method for pointing people directly to the Kerry Campaign and encouraging them to contribute up to their own limit of $2000.

I wonder what the rules there are governing direct contributions when the method for gathering the money is passive - to stop beating around the bush, I'm contemplating the idea of taking my earnings from Amazon.com associate fees and contributing them. I wonder - if I advertise that a percentage of all purchases will go to a particular candidate, does that qualify as "contributions in the name of another", which is forbidden by the FEC (page 6, on this pdf)?

I may also avoid this altogether, since politicizing my site may backfire on me. Just wondering about the pitfalls and potential places to distribute funds. Thanks xquzyphyr.
posted by kokogiak at 10:42 AM on March 16, 2004

As far as I understand, Amazon associate fees, just like PayPal donations, or people flat-out handing cash to you, would constitute you as an individual making a donation with your own money. Unless you establish and register yourself as a political group, telling people what you're doing with their money after they absolves themselves from posession of it is not a collective action.

If I said "hey, give me a dollar, and I'll give it to Kerry," it counts as me giving Kerry a dollar, and you giving me a dollar, not you giving Kerry a dollar. Amazon fees are income. That means it's your money, not anyone else's.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:53 AM on March 16, 2004

kokogiak, whether you realize it or not, you are asking for legal advice here. Violations of federal election laws can be punished criminally. As others have noted, this is not the best place to get legal advice.

When the John Edwards campaign reported a large number of $2,000 donations from low-level employees at law firms whose lawyers had themselves already maxed out on contributions, that apparently triggered a Justice Department investigation into whether these were "contributions by an individual or entity to a political campaign in the name of another person." You might well be setting yourself up for the same problem.

It seems to me that saying on your website, "If you give me money through Amazon, I promise to pass some of that money on to John Kerry's campaign," that would allow people to do an end-run around the campaign limits by donating in your name. Suppose I've already given Kerry $2,000, the maximum, but sorely wish I could give him more. I happen upon your site, think, "aha! Another way to give money to Kerry!," and shower you with dollars. If this were legal, you would think that this loophole would already have been seized upon.

However, a simple statement on your website encouraging your supporters to give Kerry money themselves, directly, is probably still protected by the First Amendment.
posted by profwhat at 12:27 PM on March 16, 2004

Response by poster: Understood profwhat, and I wasn't about to embark seriously without actual legal advice - was just using AskMe to find immediate red flags - such as the lovely example you just gave - that would give me pause before even going that far. Also, in the article you linked, I found a lovely term for just what I was worried about "conduit funds". Thanks!
posted by kokogiak at 12:34 PM on March 16, 2004

If you're interested in one of the two parties having success in general (in terms of majorities in whichever house, etc.) consider giving to that party's national committee, as they are the only entity really likely to flexibly swoop down and throw money around late in key races.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 2:20 PM on March 16, 2004

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