FEC helps parties on convention cash

The Federal Election Commission moved Thursday to allow the Democratic and Republican national committees to raise additional money for their nominating conventions, filling a void left by Congress’ decision to pull public funding for the events.

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In a 4-2 vote, the FEC authorized the RNC and DNC to form convention committees that can raise federal funds under separate limits. The money raised for the cause must be used solely to pay for the conventions and cannot be transferred to other accounts, used to support candidates or any other party activities.

FEC Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel said the conventions are “unique and very important parts of our participatory democracy.”

“The national conventions and the delegate selections and the platform debates are other things done at those conventions are a means, in my view, to encourage political participations,” she said. “And that’s important.”

In a rare collaboration, the RNC and DNC jointly requested the allowance amid a bitter midterm election season.

The action follows legislation enacted earlier this year to end the use of taxpayer money for presidential nominating conventions. The bill redirected the $126 million that is used to fund the annual convention parties to pediatric medical research.

On Thursday, the parties issued a statement lauding the FEC’s “recognition” that they have the authority to raise funds for the convention, and that the money won’t be counted against their campaign-focused fundraising limits.

“This is an important, if modest, first step for the parties in continuing to meet their historic responsibility to conduct conventions, which play such a vital role in our democratic process,” the parties said.

But campaign finance reform advocates blasted the decision, arguing that the FEC’s action flies in the face of congressional intent, and undermines regulations put in place decades ago in response to the national Watergate scandal.

“What the party committees are seeking is nothing short of permission to violate the laws passed by Congress,” said Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center. 

The center, along with group Democracy 21, warned that the decision could lead to a proliferation of national committees for other purposes that would be used “to skirt existing contribution limits on a massive scale.”

The commissioners sought to ensure the groups that protections would be put in place to ensure that the money would be used only to pay for the conventions. Further, they insisted that the authorization was a one-time-only action and that they did not intend to establish any other national committees.

Still two of three Democratic commissioners — Ellen Weintraub and Steven Walther — dissented, while Ravel joined with the panel’s Republican commissioners, for the second time Thursday, to approve the request.

Weintraub said she had been conflicted about the issue.

“I’m not hot under the collar about this,” she said. “I just don’t think the legal analysis works.”