Posts Tagged ‘Federal Election Commission’

Yelp Gives Lobbying Five Stars

Friday, January 10th, 2014 by Vbhotla

IT’S UNDERSTOOD WITHIN the beltway that to remain successful, companies should lobby. As Apple learned the hard way, not having friends in Washington can backfire when the political winds are unfavorable. That’s a lesson fellow tech company Yelp has taken to heart, as they’ve dramatically boosted their Washington lobbying presence in the last few months.

Before this fall, it seemed as though Yelp didn’t think much of having advocates on the Hill, but that’s rapidly changing. In October, The Hill reported that the tech company hired its first lobbyist in Laurent Crenshaw, a former aide to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on the House Oversight Committee.

Unlike fellow tech companies like Google and Facebook, both of which have had a lobbying presence on Capitol Hill for years, Yelp is late to the lobbying game. But they seem intent on making up for lost time. Ars Technica reports that Yelp registered its first PAC with the Federal Election Commission on December 31st, a sure sign that the company intends to step into the influence game.

So on what issues will Yelp focus its lobbying efforts? As The Hill notes, Yelp depends on user-generated reviews, so it must ensure that it can host negative reviews of businesses without being vulnerable to libel suits. Further, Yelp is seeking the creation of a federal anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) law. Supporters of the bill argue that such lawsuits are used to intimidate users of companies such as Yelp who post negative reviews of businesses. By supporting an anti-SLAPP bill, Yelp would ensure that its livelihood (namely user reviews) is protected.

Of course, as The Huffington Post notes, Yelp will also likely lobby on many of the same issues that Facebook and Google have backed, in particular the Innovation Act, which seeks to curtail patent trolls and which passed the House of Representatives last month.

Will Yelp’s efforts pay off?  History suggests that they will. As The Sunlight Foundation found in 2012, companies who lobby do better than companies that don’t, and with Apple’s advocacy face plant fresh in Silicon Valley’s mind, it seems likely that other tech companies will take Yelp’s lead.

FEC Weighs in on Bitcoin

Friday, November 8th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

ATTORNEYS AT THE Federal Election Commission released an advisory opinion yesterday approving Bitcoin, an electronic currency, as a legitimate form of in-kind contribution.  The draft opinion is a direct response to a request made in August by the Conservative Action Fund (CAF), which sought approval for the use of bitcoins in political fundraising.  CAF essentially wanted to know two things: firstly, “whether it may accept Bitcoins as contributions from individuals otherwise lawfully able to contribute,” and, secondly, “whether CAF may then itself contribute, sell, or directly spend these Bitcoins.”

The FEC has responded with a yes and a no.  Yes, bitcoins may be accepted as a form of contribution; but no, they may not be spent in turn.  In the attorneys’ own words:

The Commission concludes that CAF may accept Bitcoins as in-kind contributions under valuation, reporting, and disbursement procedures, as described below. CAF may not, however, make disbursements using Bitcoins. Instead CAF must sell its Bitcoins and deposit the proceeds in its campaign depositories before using the funds.

One can learn about the arguments for and against the use of Bitcoin in politics here.

Bitcoin in Politics: 3 Arguments For and Against

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

IN JUST THE past few years, the degree to which American politics has become awash with cash has well exceeded the absurdity of Monopoly, a game in which large sums of money are thrown about so carelessly that one almost whimsically wishes it were real.  But things haven’t become so farcical that Monopoly money is actually used in the political arena.  Or have they?

The Conservative Action Fund (CAF) has requested that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) accept Bitcoin, an open source “cryptocurrency,” as a legitimate form of political contribution.  The commission has until the end of next month to reply with an advisory opinion.

It’s helpful to know the case for and against potential approval by the FEC. The CAF rests its request on three main arguments:

  1. Bitcoin is a form of money;  it’s exchanged as an imaginary thing of value, similar in concept to any dollar, euro, pound sterling, etc.
  2. Bitcoin’s popularity is soaring, i.e., it’s legitimacy is supported by its growing use.  The total value of all Bitcoins in circulation is currently over $1.3 billion.
  3. There’s an appetite for Bitcoins in the political arena.  Parties and candidates want to accept them and they want to spend them.  In fact, the Libertarian Party already does both.

These are undoubtedly compelling arguments, and will likely receive unyielding approval from libertarians, most of whom disapprove of the FEC’s very existence.  Yet regardless of where the support emanates, there’s force behind these two words: why not?  Why not permit the use of Bitcoin if there’s a case for its legitimacy and clear evidence of its popularity?

The most detailed arguments will potentially come from the advisory opinion itself, but a few have been floating in cyberspace, articulated by such sources as USA Today, Bloomberg, and Fox.  Here are three:

  1. Bitcoin is not accepted as legal tender in any nation.  It’s even banned in some corners of the world.  Why should the FEC recognize an underground currency?
  2. Bitcoin’s value against the U.S. dollar is prone to extreme fluctuation.  The CAF even recognizes this in its proposal, and links to a graph illustrating Bitcoins’ crashes.  The USA Today asks “How should a political committee handle a Bitcoin contribution of $199 that jumps in value to $205 by the time the deposit hits the committee’s campaign account?”
  3. It’s unclear whether a donation of Bitcoins should be treated as an in-kind or monetary contribution.  This dilemma matters immensely, which the CAF admits.  If a Bitcoin donation were treated as an in-kind contribution, its value would be equal to its “usual and normal value on the date it is received.”  If it were treated as a monetary contribution, its value would be “readily apparent.”  Which of these two nearly opposite designations is correct is certainly not readily apparent.

Clearly there is sound logic to support both sides of the argument.  If the FEC is ready to employ nothing but sound logic in its response, then spectators like your humble blogger are in for an interesting and fruitful dialogue.  But one can only hope for such an elevated discussion; the more likely outcome is politics as usual. 

Campaign Finance in the News

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 by Vbhotla

The Federal Election Commission published two new final rules on August 27, and also issued two advisory opinions.

First is a final rule pertaining to coordination of political communications by outside groups with campaigns. The rule now:

add[s] a new standard to the content prong of the coordination rules to cover public communications that are the functional equivalent of express advocacy. The final rules do not alter the conduct prong of the coordination rules, but provide further justification for retaining the 120-day time period in the common vendor and former employee conduct standards. The final rules adopt a new safe harbor for certain commercial and business communications.

Second is a change to several federal election activity definitions:

The final rules revise the definitions of “voter registration activity” and “get-out-the-vote activity” (GOTV) to cover activities that urge, encourage or assist potential voters to register to vote, regardless of whether the message is delivered individually or to a group of people via mass communication. Brief, incidental exhortations to register to vote are exempt from the new definitions. The final rules clarify that certain voter identification and GOTV activities conducted solely in connection with a non-Federal election are not subject to the Commission’s Federal election activity regulations and provide that certain de minimis activities are not subject to the Federal election activity funding restrictions.

The rules do not take effect until December 2010.

View the FEC’s press release here: FEC Adopts Final Rules on Coordinated Communications and Federal Election Activity, Approves Two Advisory Opinions. (Link included on page to final rules and two published advisory opinions).

Washington Post reports on reactions by campaign finance reformers, “FEC Answers a Nagging Question – Sort Of”.

The FEC’s newsletter, the RECORD, is now online as well.