FEC: Members Can Raise Soft Money for Redistricting Activities

May 9, 2010 · 9:00 AM EDT

After hours of discussion and a weeklong delay, the Federal Election Commission on Friday voted to allow Members of Congress to raise soft money for some redistricting activities.

In March, the National Democratic Redistricting Trust requested an advisory opinion about whether Members are allowed to raise money for the trust, which is handling the legal aspect of the Democrats’ post-2010 redistricting effort.

Last week, the FEC released two opposing draft advisory opinions, one that would allow and one that would forbid the trust from using federal lawmakers and candidates to raise unlimited funds for the organization. After hours of discussion, the commission deadlocked and pushed off making a decision for a week.

The next round of reapportionment and redistricting will be the first since the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which eliminated soft money, and, therefore, Members’ involvement in the process was expected to severely limited.

But after a tally vote on Friday, all six commissioners agreed to allow the trust to proceed.

“This is simply confirmation of existing FEC precedent — that raising funds for legal trusts is permitted under the campaign finance laws,” said Democratic attorney Marc Elias, who filed the initial request on behalf of the trust. “The trust will continue its work to lay a strong legal foundation for redistricting.”

Commissioner Steve Walther did not support the entirety of the analysis and issued a separate concurring opinion that cited Advisory Opinion 2003-15 (Majette) as the key precedent.

That advisory opinion, by a 5-0 vote, allowed Georgia Democrat Denise Majette to raise money outside of normal contribution rules for a legal expense trust fund after she was named as a defendant in a post-primary election lawsuit.

“I’m always happy that more folks can be fundraising for the lawyers,” veteran GOP attorney Mark Braden joked. “I hope to avoid becoming an involuntary major donor to various redistricting efforts this cycle!”

Republicans were anxiously awaiting the FEC’s most recent decision as well, but it’s unclear how it will effect GOP redistricting efforts.

Braden is working with Making America’s Promise Secure, a 501(c)(4) which is coordinating the legal, data-gathering and map-drawing aspects of redistricting for the GOP. The FEC’s decision appears to be focused narrowly on fundraising for legal activities.

The FEC’s decision will not affect the Republican State Leadership Committee’s Redistricting Majority Project or the Democrats’ Foundation for the Future, which are deeply involved in the redistricting process but are organized as 527s and cannot have Member involvement.