The Federal Election Commission said Thursday that contributions to presidential convention committees will not count against the annual limit on donations to national parties — allowing wealthy donors to double their support for party operations.
The FEC’s move came in response to a rare joint request by the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, which argued that they needed a new avenue to raise funds for the events after a federal law eliminated public funding for the conventions.
“We appreciate the FEC’s recognition that, as the party convention committees adjust to the loss of public funding, they have authority to raise funds that will help pay the costs of their national conventions,” the parties said in a joint statement. “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.”
But critics of the decision said the FEC created an end-run around federal contribution limits. Under the rules, individuals can currently give up to $32,400 per year to a national party committee.
Now, donors will be able to give an additional $32,400 each year to a separate committee set up to finance the quadrennial convention. That means that a single donor could give nearly $130,000 to support a party and its convention in a two-year election cycle.
Larry Noble, counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, which seeks to limit the influence of money on politics, called the decision “disgraceful.”
“I just don’t see that there’s any basis in the law for it,” he said, adding that it could lead to a host of requests to set up separate committees for other party activities, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts.
“It is hard to see how in the future they are going to turn down requests for other national party committees,” Noble said.
The FEC advisory opinion was passed by a vote of 4 to 2, supported by the three GOP commissioners and one of the Democratic appointees, Ann Ravel.
Ravel noted that the decision was written narrowly and does not permit money to be transferred from a convention committee to other party committees.
“They are not going to be funded for political purposes,” she said.
Chairman Lee Goodman said that he and others who supported the move concluded that a convention functions as “a separate organizational entity from the party.”
Goodman said the new avenue for donations was necessary to give more resources to national parties, which have seen their influence wane as outside groups have increasingly dominated political spending.
“I want to strengthen them so when big special interest groups and super PACs drop money into a race, a politician can turn to his or her own political party to have his or her back,” he said.
The decision comes after President Obama signed a bipartisan bill in April that directed $126 million over 10 years that had been allocated to the national political conventions to instead finance pediatric disease research at the National Institutes of Health.
That eliminated public funding for conventions that had been available to major national parties since 1976. In 2012, the fund provided each party with about $18 million for the events.
Those sums were a small fraction of the amount spent to put on the lavish festivities, however. Thanks to a loophole created by the FEC in 1977, local host committees have been allowed to raise unlimited donations — including from corporations — to put on events surrounding the conventions.
In 2012, Democrats broke their pledge to put on their convention without corporate cash, using $5 million from a nonprofit civic committee financed by companies such as Bank of America and AT&T to rent an arena in Charlotte for their three-day event.