ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Center for Competitive Politics Legal Director Allen Dickerson joined attorney Benjamin T. Barr and local counsel Dan Backer of DB Capitol Strategies in filing an advisory opinion request (AOR) with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on behalf of the National Defense Committee. The AOR was posted to the FEC website today and asks for clarification as to whether certain proposed internet communications are “express advocacy” subject to regulation by the Commission. The AOR also asks whether National Defense must file as a political action committee (“PAC”) in order to produce these communications.
The National Defense Committee is an all-volunteer non-profit organization focused on veterans’ affairs, national defense, homeland security, and national security. It intends to begin producing videos for internet distribution that would discuss policy issues related to the group’s mission, including communications concerning limiting the size of government and providing for the strong military protection of the United States. National Defense also intends to ask for donations from like-minded individuals. In short, National Defense would like to use limited funds to speak on the policy issues it considers important. But the confused state of the FEC’s regulations make it impossible to know, in advance, which communications are likely to trigger FEC jurisdiction.
National Defense retained CCP, Barr, and Backer to clarify that it can produce these videos without registering as a PAC, a designation that would hinder their ability to produce timely communications without the administrative burdens associated with FEC regulation. Dickerson hopes clarification will set a precedent for future small groups seeking to run ads and discuss issues during election season without fear of violating campaign finance laws.
“Even professionals have difficulty determining when a particular ad can be regulated by the government. Over a course of years, the FEC has delivered hundreds of opinions on this topic, but they do not form a coherent whole and they do not adequately inform speakers — in advance — of their rights,” he said. “We hope the Commission will take this opportunity to provide clear-cut guidance, and that our representation of the National Defense Committee will free future organizations from having to hire lawyers before engaging in small-scale, grassroots political speech.”
Similarly, Barr hopes to alleviate some of the bureaucratic burden on groups that simply seek to exercise their right to speak.
“Some claim the FEC’s rules merely require disclosure, but that’s simply untrue,” said Barr. “There is nothing ‘mere’ about a system that requires any group of citizens to register with a federal agency and file mountains of complicated paperwork before they may criticize the government. We hope that our advisory opinion request will help secure the rights of average Americans everywhere to speak, as the First Amendment requires.”
The Committee hopes to have the matter settled with an official response from the FEC in the next month.
The Center for Competitive Politics promotes and defends the First Amendment’s protection of political rights of speech, assembly, and petition. It is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.