Requested by: Timothy A. McKeever
Holmes Weddle & Barcott
Prepared by: Jenifer Kohout, Assistant Director
Date issued: September 9, 1999
Subject: Administration of a presidential straw poll by the
Alaska Federation of Republican Women
This letter responds to your request for an advisory opinion regarding whether the Alaska campaign disclosure law applies to the plans of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women ("The Federation") to conduct a presidential straw poll.
As long as the Federation’s activities relate exclusively to the execution of a Presidential straw poll, they are not subject to AS 15.13. However, if the Federation’s polling activities benefit the efforts of the Federation or the Republican Party of Alaska to influence the outcome of state and local elections, they will trigger the state campaign disclosure law.
You indicate that all money collected to carry out the poll will be used to conduct poll activities and that any money remaining after the poll is completed will be returned to contributors or given to charity. If this is the case, the straw poll will not trigger the state campaign disclosure law. If, however, the polling activities benefit the party’s efforts to influence state elections, the activity will become subject to AS 15.13.
The Commission requests that the Federation disclose income and expenditures associated with the poll by either filing a copy of its FEC reports after they are filed with the FEC or by providing an accounting of its poll activities after the poll is complete. If the Federation engages in poll activities which benefit the party’s state election efforts, the Federation must disclose the activity on state campaign disclosure reports.
AS 15.13.010. Applicability. (a) This chapter applies (1) in every election for governor, lieutenant governor, a member of state legislature, a delegate to a constitutional convention, or judge seeking electoral confirmation; (2) to every candidate for election to a municipal office….
(b) Except as otherwise provided, this chapter applies to contributions, expenditures and communications made by a candidate, group, municipality or individual for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a ballot proposition or question as well as those made to influence the nomination or election of a candidate.
You write on behalf of the Federation regarding their plans to conduct a Presidential preference "straw poll" of registered Republicans in the State of Alaska.
The Federation is an umbrella organization for six local Republican women’s groups. The Republican Party of Alaska has recognized the Federation and its affiliates as a political subdivision. As a result, the Federation is part of the party for the purposes of the campaign disclosure law. All contributions to and expenditures by the Federation are aggregated with the other Republican party groups when calculating contribution limits.
The Federation contributes to state and federal candidates. It maintains separate state and federal campaign accounts. It currently discloses to the APOC activity in its state account and its charitable gaming account although money from the gaming account is no longer used for political purposes.
You indicate that the Federation plans to conduct a Presidential preference "straw poll" in January 2000. The non-binding poll will ask registered Republicans to vote on the Republican presidential candidates. The Federation will tally the votes and release the results to the press and the public.
The poll will be conducted simultaneously with the Republican statewide caucuses but in a separate room or portion of the room. At the caucuses, attendees will elect precinct committee men and women and conduct organizational activities such as the development of the party’s platform through the consideration of resolutions. Attendance at the caucus is not required in order to vote in the poll. However, participants in the poll must be registered Republicans. Voters may register at the event. The Federation will buy advertising to alert voters of the time and location of the straw poll. You have stated that the ads will mention that the poll will occur after the caucuses. Advertising for the caucuses will not be paid by the Federation. Instead, the party districts or other party entities will pay for the caucus ads. Those ads will mention that the poll will be conducted after the conclusion of the caucuses.
The Federation will open a separate bank account for all contributions and expenditures related to the poll. You indicate the Federation will deposit contributions into the poll account based on the designation of the donor. Contributors will make checks payable to the Federation Straw Poll Account or designate their intent by some other means.
You anticipate that the costs associated with the poll will include the preparation and distribution of the ballots; telephone, fax and communication charges to coordinate the poll and obtain and tally the results; and advertising to alert voters of the time and location of the poll. All of the individuals working on the poll will be volunteers.
You indicate that money raised for the poll will not be commingled with funds for any other purposes. The funds will not be used to make contributions to federal or state candidates and will not be used to pay the general operating expenses of the Federation. You state that any surplus money remaining after the poll is conducted will be refunded to contributors on a pro rata basis or will be given to charity.
Finally, you informed the Commission that in response to your request for advice, the Federal Election Commission has found that the straw poll is subject to federal campaign law.
1. Are contributions to and expenditures by the Federation for purposes of conducting the Presidential straw poll regulated by AS 15.13?
In the past, the Commission has observed that the primary function of political parties is to further political agendas by electing candidates. AS 15.13 supports this observation. It defines "expenditure" to include any payment by a political party. As a result, the Commission has held that all activities undertaken by a political party are inherently to influence the outcome of an election. The Commission has required that political parties report transactions made in connection with events such as inaugural balls, luncheons, legal services, and annual district and statewide conventions.
The Commission, however, has not addressed activities by a political party which enhance the ability of the party to influence only federal elections.
AS 15.13 applies to state and local elections. As a result, party activities which do not influence state or local elections, directly or indirectly, are not subject to state campaign disclosure law. In this case, contributions to the Federation which are intended to pay the costs of and which are used exclusively to conduct a Presidential straw poll are not subject to the requirements of the state campaign disclosure law. Similarly, expenditures from a Federation straw poll account are not subject to AS 15.13 as long as the Federation’s activities relate exclusively to the execution of a Presidential straw poll and do not influence state or local elections.
However, if the Federation’s polling activities benefit the state election efforts of the Federation or the Republican Party of Alaska, they will trigger the contribution limitations and other requirements of AS 15.13. For example, because organizational activities like the election of precinct committee members occurs at the caucuses, the caucuses benefit the efforts of the Republican Party to influence the outcome of state and federal elections. As a result, if funds collected to conduct the straw poll are used to pay costs associated with the caucuses, they will be subject to AS 15.13.
Further, the Federation should ensure that advertisements for the poll do not do more than provide the public information about the poll. For example, if the advertisements are designed to attract and register new party members at the polling site, this would benefit the efforts of the Party to influence state and federal elections and would become subject to AS 15.13.
If the Federation engages in activities which benefit the efforts of the party to influence state elections, its activity will be subject to AS 15.13.
If the Federation engages in activities which benefit the party’s state election efforts, the Federation must disclose that activity on state campaign disclosure reports.
To provide the public with a complete picture of the Federation’s polling activity, the Commission requests that the Federation also disclose any other polling activity not disclosed in state reports. If the Federation files FEC reports related to the poll, it should transmit a copy to the APOC. If the Federation does not file FEC reports, the Commission requests that it provide an accounting of the income and expenses associated with the straw poll. You have indicated that the Federation would be willing to disclose its polling activities. Although the filing is not required, the Commission believes that disclosure would provide valuable information to the public.
2. Are there any other restrictions in state law which would govern the solicitation or expenditure of funds for the purposes of conducting a Presidential straw poll?
There are no other restrictions in the campaign finance law that would govern the solicitation or expenditure of funds for the purposes of conducting a Presidential straw poll. The Commission makes no representation as to whether provisions of state law outside its jurisdiction might apply to the Federation’s planned activities.
Contributions to the Federation which are used exclusively to conduct a Presidential straw poll are not subject to the requirements of the state campaign disclosure law. To the extent the Federation’s polling activities benefit the state election efforts of the Federation or the Republican Party of Alaska, however, they trigger the limitations and requirements of AS 15.13.
The Commission requests that the Federation disclose all income and expenditures associated with the poll which are not disclosed on state reports by either filing a copy of its FEC reports or by providing an accounting of its poll activities.
The Commission approved the advice in this letter by an affirmative vote of 5-0 on November 1, 1999. The advice in this opinion applies only to the specific activity for which the advice was requested.
A copy of the original letter requesting the above advisory opinion is available upon request at the Alaska Public Offices Commission. 907/276-4176.