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Interpretative Opinion 97-06: Contribution Limits

August 15, 1997
 

The Honorable Paul Strauss
US Senator for the District of Columbia
and
The Honorable Sabrina Sojourner
US Representative for the District of Columbia
District of Columbia (Shadow) Delegation
441 Fourth Street, NW
Suite 1000 - S
Washington, DC  20001

Re:    Contributions to Statehood Funds

Dear Senator Strauss and Representative Sojourner:

Please accept our sincere apologies for the delay in responding to your letter dated April 28, 1997 in which you raised several issues concerning District of Columbia Statehood Funds.  However, as alluded to in our telephone communications, many of your questions are novel issues for the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) as they relate to a relatively new public office in the District of Columbia, the responses to your issues are not found solely within the campaign finance statute, and the statute itself may not have contemplated your specific concerns.

First, you inquire as to the dollar limits on contributions made to Statehood Funds.  Pursuant to DC Code § 1-113, there are no restrictions on contributions received to support a Statehood Fund.  However, DC Code § 1-113(g)(1) enumerates the types of acceptable contributions to a Statehood Fund.  This statute provides that a Representative or Senator “may accept services, monies, gifts, endowments, donations or bequests . . . which shall be deposited in the Statehood Fund in 1 or more financial institutions . . .”.

Second, you ask whether there are any restrictions on contributions made to the Statehood Fund, and the statutory authority for any such restrictions.  DC Code § 1-113(5)(g)(1) states, “[a] Representative or Senator may solicit and receive contributions to support the purposes and operations of the Representative’s or Senator’s public office.  Such purposes pursuant to DC Code § 1-113(f)(4) should relate to the achievement of statehood in the District of Columbia.  Further, a Representative or Senator is authorized to administer his or her respective fund “in any manner deemed  wise  and  prudent,  provided  that  the  administration  is  lawful, in accordance with the The Honorable Paul Strauss fiduciary responsibilities of public office, and does not impose any financial burden on the District of Columbia.” DC Code § 1-113(g)(1).  Moreover, a District of Columbia Representative or Senator may establish a Constituent Services Fund and accept contributions for “citizen-service activities” pursuant to DC § 1-1443.  These funds are to be used exclusively to promote the general welfare of the citizens of the District of Columbia.

Third, your concern is whether contributions made to the office, i.e., Statehood Fund, are tax deductible.  This issue is beyond the jurisdiction of the Office of Campaign Finance and would be more appropriately directed to the District of Columbia Department of Finance and Revenue,  or in the alternative, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Fourth, you inquire as to whether purchases for the office made by the Statehood Fund are exempt from sales and use taxes.  Again, we would direct you to either the District of Columbia Department of Finance and Revenue or to the IRS.

Fifth, you ask, in view of the DC Congressional Delegation’s non-salaried status, whether there are limits on a Representative’s or Senator’s acceptance of honoraria or outside income, and, if so, whether they apply to honoraria donated directly to the Statehood Fund, where the official may be prevented from directly benefitting from it.  In accordance with DC Code § 1-113(a), the honoraria limitations imposed by DC Code § 1-1481 shall apply to a Senator or Representative “ only if the salary of such official(s) is supported by public revenues.”  Consequently, such a determination could only be made upon review of relevant documentation obtained  by the District’s financial authorities relative to the funding sources for your official salaries.

Sixth, you inquire concerning what aspects, if any, of federal election law govern the positions of US Senator and US Representative for the District of Columbia.  Pursuant to DC Code § 1-113(d)(2), “[t]he qualifications for candidates for the offices of Senator and Representative shall conform with the provisions of Article I of the United States Constitution . . . “.  This statute further establishes other guidelines including the term of office for such officeholders.

Seventh, you ask regarding the disclosure and reporting requirements applicable to meals, gifts, and services that are neither “in-kind” nor direct monetary contributions.  DC Code § 1-1462 requires certain public officials, including US Senator and Representative for the District of Columbia, to report all gifts received in an aggregate value of $100 in a calendar year from entities transacting business with the District of Columbia to the Director of Campaign Finance on a Financial Disclosure Statement (FDS) filed annually by May 15th of each year.

Finally, you ask concerning any restrictions that may apply to the name(s) given to an official’s Statehood Fund.  Specifically, you inquire as to the appropriateness of designating the Fund by the individual office (e.g., DC Senatorial Committee) or by simply combining the official’s name and office title.  In our view, to avoid confusing the electorate in terms of the entity to which a contribution is made, it is our considered opinion that the name designation should include the office and officeholder’s name, e.g., District of Columbia Statehood Fund for US Senator Paul Strauss.