A Legal Note from the World of Conventions

July 26, 2016
posted by Bob Bauer

In 1984 there was a flap over the funding of delegates slates. The Mondale campaign, it was charged, had cheated on the campaign spending limits by putting the money into convention delegate selection. Delegate financing hasn’t been an issue since then, and it still really is not, except that it is worth noting a case recently and successfully brought to loosen the limits on delegate financing. The case, settled with the FEC, frees delegates to accept contributions from nonprofit corporations. It is a step in the right direction in making the laws more sensible, admittedly on an obscure point, but it is still better to have legal reform happen whenever possible.

The Pillar Law Institute noted that individuals can contribute without limits to delegates, to fund convention-related expenses, but corporations, including nonprofit corporations, cannot. The Institute proposed to help delegates without means to attend the Republican convention, to supply them with educational materials, and to offer them legal support pro bono if necessary to defend them against litigation threats (e.g. from Donald Trump). It sued for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief.

The FEC and the Institute entered into a settlement that allows for these contributions by qualified nonprofits, so-called MCFL corporations, formed for political purpose and not funded with corporate or with labor money. Good for all concerned. Weeding out of the law inconsistencies and pointless restrictions is helpful in any number of respects. It frees political actors and their allies to collaborate on useful activities, removes from the rulebook limits that the FEC should not have to enforce (or leave unenforced), and contributes to the too-often depleted reservoir of respect for the regulatory system.

While the reform debate stalls over major disagreements, there is space for law reform that can proceed by consensus, and while it should not have to occur lawsuit-by-lawsuit, we should take what we can get.

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