October 28, 2004
WASHINGTON - Presidential and congressional candidates can raise unlimited donations to finance recounts as President Bush and Al Gore did for their high-stakes Florida dispute in 2000.
Four of the Federal Election Commission's six members said Thursday that the FEC's long-standing rule on recount fund raising remains in effect, which means federal candidates can set up separate recount funds and finance them with unlimited donations from individual contributors. Candidates cannot accept corporate, union or foreign money.
The FEC's guidance was issued informally in comments by a majority of the commission's members. The commission stopped short of issuing a formal advisory opinion on the matter after a Senate candidate withdrew his request for one.
At issue was what effect, if any, a 2002 campaign finance law had on recount fund raising. The law prohibits national party committees and presidential and congressional candidates from raising corporate, union and unlimited contributions for election costs.
The Bush campaign has argued that nothing in the law affects recount fund raising. The law's sponsors and campaign finance watchdogs have told the FEC they believe the new restrictions do apply to recounts, and that candidates should only be able to collect contributions of up to $2,000 from individuals and $5,000 from political action committees for recount expenses.
Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said that even though the FEC didn't issue a formal opinion on recount fund raising, it was important for candidates to know where a majority of commissioners stood.
"I think it's worth telling people it's not worth filing those complaints" should their opponents raise unlimited individual donations for recounts, Weintraub said.
Weintraub said she would have supported limits on recount contributions had the commission voted on an advisory opinion, but that without the chance to vote on it, felt the FEC had no choice but to go with the existing rule. Three other commissioners also said the old rule stands.
In addition to recount funds, candidates can use legal and accounting compliance funds financed with limited donations to cover their costs in ballot disputes. The commission made that ruling last month in response to a request for guidance by John Kerry on the use of such funds.
In the 2000 Florida recount, Bush voluntarily capped donations at $5,000 each and raised nearly $14 million. His campaign has not said whether he would do the same if there are recount costs this election. Gore, who didn't limit his recount contributions, spent about $3.2 million on his costs in the Florida dispute.