The BCRA (Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, a.k.a McCain-Feingold Act) is a campaign finance law which impacts on the operations of the national and regional Libertarian Parties. It limits the way funds are spent on politics, and requires reporting to the Federal Election Committee (FEC).
- Ban national party committees and federal candidates and officeholders from raising or spending nonfederal funds, i.e., "soft money;"
- Limit and require disclosure of electioneering communications -- so-called â€œissue ads;â€
- Increase certain contribution limits and index them to inflation;
- Strengthen the application of the foreign national ban;
- Modify the definition of â€œcoordination;â€
- Increase individual contribution limits and coordinated party expenditure limits for candidates facing an opponent who makes large expenditures from personal funds;
- Require disclaimers on all public communications by political committees; and
- Codify the FEC's rules on use of campaign funds, and permit campaigns to pay candidates a salary.
Federal Election Activity
Under the BCRA, certain types of activities are classified as "federal election activity" (FEA). As used in the statute and in 11 CFR Part 300, FEA includes any of the following activities conducted by a state, district or local party committee, or an association of state or local candidates/officials:
- Voter registration activity within 120 days before a regularly-scheduled federal election;
- Voter identification, generic campaign activities and get-out-the-vote activities that are conducted in connection with an election in which one or more candidates for federal office appear on the ballot (regardless of whether state or local candidates also appear on the ballot).
- A public communication that refers to a clearly-identified federal candidate and that promotes, supports, attacks or opposes any federal candidate; and
- Services provided by an employee of a state, district or local party committee who spends more than 25 percent of his or her compensated time during that month on activities in connection with a federal election. 11 CFR 100.24(b).
The BCRA prohibits the use of nonfederal funds (often called â€œsoft moneyâ€) to pay for these activities, and requires that some FEA be financed only with federal funds, although other types of FEA may be paid for with a mix of federal funds and a new category of funds, called â€œLevin Fundsâ€ (see below).
The BCRA created a new category of funds for state, district and local party committees, called "Levin" funds that may be used to pay for certain federal election activities. If state law permits, individuals, PACs, corporations and labor unions may each donate up to $10,000 per year in Levin funds to state, district and local parties. The committees must use federal or Levin funds to raise Levin funds and may spend only those Levin funds that they raise themselves. The funds may only be used for certain expenses related to the first two categories of federal election activity, listed above (i.e., voter registration and voter identification/generic campaign/get-out-the-vote activities). The parties may not use Levin funds to finance public communications or to pay the salaries of employees who spend more than 25 percent of their compensated time on federal elections. National party committees may not raise or spend Levin funds. For more information, consult the FEC's detailed regulations for the raising and spending of Levin funds and the FEC's "Local Party Activity" brochure. 11 CFR 300.32(b) and (c).
Impact on the California LP
Before the 2005 convention, the California LP (LPC) was composed of a statewide organization and local regions. Regions were often composed of single counties, with the exception of Los Angeles County which was divided into eight regions, and some less populated regions were composed of two or more counties. UMP payments from the National LP are divided between the state LPC and the local regions according to the LPC bylaws.
The problem is that this made the entire collection of the state LPC and local regions one organization. If the total spent on "federal election activity" by the state and regions combined together exceeded $1000, then the state LPC would be obliged to report every check written or received by either the LPC or local regions.
At the 2005 convention, the bylaws committee headed by M Carling proposed a number of changes as being advisable to avoid trouble with BCRA, which were subsequently passed by the convention delegates. This resulted in the following changes to the organization:
- Authorized county central committees to maintain their own independent campaign finance funds, and requires them to be responsible for complying with election laws, so that each region would have the option of either limiting "federal election activity" to less than $1000/year, or reporting to the FEC, without affecting the status of the other regions or the state LPC.
- Authorized the LPC Executive Committee to maintain its own independent campaign finance funds, and requires it to be responsible for complying with election laws.
- Separated the concepts of "state central committee" and "county central committee".
- Totally eliminated the concept of "region" in favor of "county central committee". Counties may combine or divide but this are not recognized by the state LPC. UMP checks will be sent to counties only.
- Changed the composition of the LPC Executive Committee. Previously, this consisted of 5 officers, 5 representatives from the 5 largest regions chosen by those regions according to their bylaws, and 5 at-large representatives elected at the convention by delegates not from the 5 largest region. The new Executive Committee is composed of 5 officers and 10 at-large representatives elected at the convention by all the delegates.
- BCRA FAQ Frequently asked questions
- Campaign finance law: critique of this type of law