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FEC Record: Advisory Opinions

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AO 2014-07: Website May Use FEC Data, Other Info to Match Donors to Candidates

A for-profit corporation may create and operate a website that uses FEC contributor data and other information to help visitors identify and contribute to candidates, as well as prospective candidates and eventual party nominees that visitors support.

Crowdpac is a non-partisan, for-profit corporation that plans to create an online “data-driven political ‘marketplace’” in which a computer algorithm will pull together information from FEC reports and other public sources to help voters “find and support candidates who share their priorities and positions on issues.” Candidates themselves will also have an opportunity to supply content, including videos.

Crowdpac, itself, will not process contributions from its website users, but will contract with Democracy Engine, whose online processing platform was approved in Advisory Opinion (AO) 2011-06. A fee will be deducted from each contribution to cover their respective costs and provide a reasonable profit.

Crowdpac asked whether it could conduct online business under its proposed model without violating the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations.

Crowdpac’s proposal touches upon several provisions of the Act and Commission regulations, including the ban on corporate contributions (2 U.S.C. §441b(a); 11 CFR 114.2(b)(1)); rules for collecting, forwarding and reporting earmarked contributions (2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(8); 11 CFR 110.6); and restrictions on the sale and use of contributor information taken from FEC reports (2 U.S.C. §438(a)(4); 11 CFR 104.15).

The Commission has approved proposals similar to Crowdpac’s in previous advisory opinions. For instance, Crowdpac’s plan to provide all candidates an equal opportunity to submit content for the site is similar to a proposal approved in AO 2012-22 (skimmerhat). In that AO, and others similar to it, the Commission has determined that such plans do not result in a prohibited contribution from the corporation to the candidates. See also AOs 1999-25 (Democracy Net) and 1999-24 (Election Zone).

Similarly, the Commission has concluded that companies that process contributions as a service to contributors without receiving compensation from the recipient political committees are not making contributions because the companies are not providing any services to the recipient political committees. See, e.g., AOs 2012-22 (skimmerhat); 2011-19 (GivingSphere); and 2011-06 (Democracy Engine). As such, neither Crowdpac’s services nor the fees paid for those services result in a prohibited contribution to the recipient committees.

One of the services Crowdpac will offer its users is the option to make contributions for eventual nominees or prospective candidates. Democracy Engine’s PAC will collect and forward those contributions, but will not exercise any direction or control over the contributions. Absent such direction or control, the Act provides that “all contributions made by a person, either directly or indirectly ... including contributions which are in any way earmarked or otherwise directed through an intermediary or conduit to [a] candidate, shall be treated as contributions from such person to such candidate.” Democracy Engine’s PAC will transmit the contributions and applicable records within the required timeframes and will file the necessary FEC reports to disclose its conduit activity. See 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(8) and 11 CFR 110.6.

Information copied from Commission reports cannot be “sold or used by any person for the purpose of soliciting contributions or for commercial purposes, other than using the name and address of any political committee to solicit contributions from such committee.” 2 U.S.C. §438(a)(4); see also 11 CFR 104.15(a). The provision reflects Congress’s concern in protecting the privacy of donors. Crowdpac plans to use information derived from Commission reports to display aggregated campaign finance data about candidates and to use such data in its algorithm. It also plans to display on its website the names, cities and states of individual contributors identified in FEC reports. The Commission concluded that these uses of FEC data do not violate the sale and use restrictions.

Date Issued: August 14, 2014; Length: 12 pages.

(Posted 08/22/2014; By: Alex Knott)



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The FEC Record is produced by the Information Division, Office of Communications. Toll free 800-424-9530; Local 202-694-1100; Email [email protected]. Greg Scott, Director; Alex Knott, Senior Writer/Editor; Dorothy Yeager, Production Manager