Candidates for Federal Office Can Raise Unlimited Funds for Ballot Measures

The Federal Election Commission quietly issued an advisory opinion last week allowing candidates to raise unlimited funds for issue advocacy groups working on ballot measures in elections in which those candidates are on the ballot.

The opinion, issued in response to a request from a Nevada-based abortion rights group, could dramatically change the landscape in the fall in terms of the ability of candidates aligned with these groups to help them raise money.

The decision applies to all federal candidates, but with a presidential election six months away, most attention will be on this race. If Mr. Biden can raise money for abortion rights ballot measures, he could add to the already existing fundraising advantage his team currently has over Mr. Trump.

The decision, which was made public last week but went unnoticed, could affect turnout in hotly contested states like Nevada where razor-thin margins will determine the election results. In Arizona, an abortion rights group said it had the number of signatures needed to put a referendum on the ballot. Florida — a state that has reliably voted Republican in recent presidential races — has a similar measure on the ballot.

The advisory opinion means that both Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump can raise money for outside groups pushing for ballot measures. In the wake of overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, abortion ballot measures are expected to be a major focus for Democrats this fall.

“I think it’s very important,” said Adav Notti of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, calling it a huge change from the prohibitions imposed by the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill in 2002.

The opinion was issued May 1, in response to a question from attorneys representing the group Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom, which hopes to put a referendum on the ballot in the fall. The group is represented by several attorneys, including veteran Democratic election law attorney Mark Elias.

The opinion found that federal candidates and officeholders can raise money for group entities without being restricted by dollar amounts or sources.

In recognition of how the parties view the opinion, the National Republican Senatorial Committee objected to a draft of the measure a day before it was formalized. Objections included that such coordination between the candidate and an outside group would translate into an effort to get Democrats to vote in the Nevada effort.

The committee also warned of the potential for foreign money to flow into states, since only a small number of them prohibit such contributions to ballot measures.

Under the draft, the committee’s lawyers wrote, “the risk of corruption inherent in candidates’ foreign direct national contributions would simply spill over into the ballot initiative context, with the same detrimental effect.” NRSC’s concerns went unheeded.

Of the six FEC commissioners, three Republicans and one Democrat agreed with that view.

A Biden campaign spokesman and a Democratic National Committee spokesman declined to comment.

Republican National Committee senior counsel Charlie Spies has been fired from his position after just two months amid a decline in donors to the committee in Palm Beach, Florida. A spokeswoman for the Trump team did not immediately respond to a question about whether Mr. Spies’ departure had taken place. Not at all regarding the fatwa.

But Chris Lacivita, a senior Trump adviser who now helps guide the Republican National Committee as its chief of staff, described the development as an opportunity.

“We will seize all available opportunities, including new ones, to defeat corruption and the failure of the democratic machine,” La Civita said.

Mr. Noti said the Commissioners Caucus has presented other highly influential opinions recently, including expanding the capabilities of super PACs.

“The combined effect of these decisions has a really big and clear impact on how campaigns are run, and it’s all for the worse,” he said.

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