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Interpretative Opinion 97-11: Contribution Limits

October 22, 1997
 

Ms. Dorothy A. Brizill
DCWatch
1327 Girard Street, NW
Washington, DC  20009-1215

Re: Website Access as Contributions to Candidates

Dear Ms. Brizill:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning whether the provision of website access to candidates in the December 2, 1997 Special Election in the District of Columbia by DCWatch would constitute a contribution pursuant to the DC Campaign Finance Reform and Conflict of Interest Act, as amended.  Further, you ask if such access is considered a contribution to a candidate, how would these contributions be valued?

You state that DCWatch, a civic organization in the District of Columbia, is publishing on its web site campaign materials provided by candidates in the December 2, 1997 Special Election  to “promote a better public understanding and knowledge of the election and of all the candidates, and not in an effort to promote any single candidacy.”  You further state that “no funds will be expended by participating candidates or by DCWatch, and that DCWatch will incur no additional incremental cost to publish the materials on the Internet.”

DC Code § 1-1401(6)(A)(I) defines the term, contribution, to mean “[a] gift, subscription . . .,  advance, or deposit of money or anything of value, made for the purpose of financing, directly or indirectly, the election campaign of a candidate or any operations of a political committee or the campaign . . .”.  (Emphasis added).  However, DC Code § 1-1401(6)(B)(iv) excludes from the definition of a contribution, “[c]ommunications (including advertisements) to any person on any subject by any organization which is organized solely as an issue-oriented organization, which communications neither endorse nor oppose any candidate for office.”

According to your letter, DCWatch was established in the District of Columbia to model several good government organizations that exist in other jurisdictions.  You further state that the organization’s  purpose  is  not  to  promote  or  endorse  any  single candidacy.  Notwithstanding,  your explanation that costs to DCWatch for publication of candidate materials on the Internet are or will be negligible,  as a practical matter,  DCWatch has or will incur some expense by virtue of the cost of establishing and maintaining a web-site on the Internet.  Such publication, however,  is not viewed as a contribution by this Office  since the “thing of value” is not made for the purpose of financing the election campaign of a candidate, or any operations of a political committee.  You state this service is offered to all candidates for the purpose of promoting the public’s understanding of the election process, and will neither promote nor oppose any candidate for office.

Therefore, it is the opinion of the Office of Campaign Finance that the publication of candidate materials on the DCWatch website, under these circumstances, would not constitute a contribution subject to the contribution limitations.  As such, we do not reach the issue of the value of the contribution.