Lawmaker Faces Fundraising Limits in Role as State Party Chair

  • Rep. Kelly sought FEC nod to head Illinois Democratic Party
  • Commission said she can’t oversee soft money contributions

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.

Photographer: Erin Scott/Bloomberg
The Federal Election Commission ruled Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) can chair the Illinois Democratic Party but not oversee soft money fundraising.

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.

Fundraising Committee

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.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com

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