Rep. Robin Kelly can remain as chairwoman of the Illinois Democratic Party but must insulate herself from unrestricted “soft money” fundraising, the Federal Election Commission ruled Thursday.
The commission voted 5-1 to approve an advisory opinion requested on Kelly’s behalf that asked whether a member of Congress is allowed to chair a state political party that raises campaign money not regulated under federal contribution limits. A provision of the McCain-Feingold Act (Public Law 107-155) says a federal candidate is barred from establishing or controlling a soft money group.
Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub opposed the advisory opinion, which was revised shortly before the vote, saying she still had concerns about whether it could allow federal candidates and officeholders to skirt soft money restrictions.
Kelly was elected as Illinois Democratic chairwoman earlier this year, but the party suspended raising contributions outside federal limits until questions about her fundraising role were resolved, lawyers for the Illinois Democrats told the FEC.
The Illinois Democrats, like other state party committees, ordinarily raise both federally regulated “hard money” and state-regulated soft money, including contributions in amounts greater than FEC limits, as well as corporate and union funds. The new advisory opinion says fundraising under state rules must be handled by a special party committee that Kelly has no role in appointing or overseeing. Also, her name must not be used in any fundraising solicitations for state-regulated funds.
“Today’s FEC advisory opinion affirms my vision for a new Democratic Party of Illinois that encourages more voices to be involved in all aspects of the party,” Kelly said in a statement released by the state party. “As the first woman and first woman of color elected to chair DPI, I believe that a broader coalition of perspectives can only strengthen our party and help us elect more Democrats up and down the ballot.”
The statement said the state party would establish a governance structure in line with the FEC advisory opinion.
Kelly isn’t the first federal office holder to serve as chair of a state party, according to the Illinois Democrats. They said Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) is chair of the Georgia Democratic Party and until recently Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) was chair of the Colorado Republican Party.
However, the FEC had not previously issued guidance on how a federal office holder can lead a state or local political party and ensure compliance with federal campaign finance laws.
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