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Interpretative Opinion 06-06: Principal Campaign Committee

October 27, 2006

Muriel Bowser
515 Oglethorpe Street, NE
Washington, DC 20011

Re: Establishing a Principal Campaign Committee for a Ward Council seat Special

Dear Ms. Bowser:

This responds to your request for an interpretative opinion regarding when a prospective candidate may establish a Principal Campaign Committee. Specifically, in your inquiry you raised the question of when a prospective candidate who wishes to run for a Council seat that is presumed to become vacant if the incumbent is elected to another position may establish a principal campaign committee. Additionally, you inquired about the regulations and procedures regarding the formation of an “exploratory committee”.

DC Official Code §§ 1-1102.01(2)(2001 Edition), provides in pertinent part that, “[t]he term candidate means an individual who seeks nomination for election, or election, to office, whether or not such individual is nominated or elected, and for purposes of this paragraph, an individual shall be deemed to seek nomination for election, or election, if he or she has: (A) Obtained or authorized any other person to obtain nominating petitions to qualify himself or herself for nomination for election, or election to office; …”

DC Official Code §§ 1-1102.05(a) provides that, “[e]ach individual shall, within 5 days of becoming a candidate, or within 5 days of the day on which he or she, or any person authorized by him or her to do so, has received a contribution or made an expenditure in connection with his or her campaign or for the purposes of preparing to undertake his or her campaign, file with the Director a registration statement in such form as the Director may prescribe.”

In accordance with DC Official Code §§ 1-1102.05(a), a candidate is required to file a Statement of Candidacy (OCF Form 15) with the Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) within 5 days of becoming a candidate or within 5 days of receiving contributions or making expenditures. Completion of the Statement of Candidacy requires the candidate to identify the election year for which the form is being submitted. Currently, the next scheduled election for a Ward Council seat after the November 7, 2006 general election is September 2008. Thus, the only registrations (OCF) is authorized to receive at present are registrations that identify the election year as 2008. Despite the fact that it may be presumed that vacancies for Ward Council seats may become available before the expiration on the current terms in 2008, at this point, no election has been scheduled prior to 2008. Therefore, any candidate who registers with OCF must identify 2008 as the election year on the Statement of Candidacy. However, in the event that a vacancy in any office is certified by the Board of Elections and Ethics prior to the regularly scheduled election year of 2008, a special election would result. Consequently, OCF would then be authorized to accept candidate registrations for purposes of establishing a Principal Campaign Committee for the scheduled special election.

Additionally, in view of the fact that the collection and expenditure of campaign funds must be consistent with the schedule of elections, any contributions to or expenditures made by candidates or prospective candidates must be related to either the November 7, 2006 general election, or a currently scheduled subsequent election. Therefore, there is no provision of law or regulation that authorizes a potential candidate to receive contributions or make expenditures based upon an expected vacancy.

With regard to your inquiry about the regulations and procedures governing an “exploratory committee”, OCF regulations at 3 DCMR § 3001 provide the following:

3001.1 Each exploratory, draft or “testing the waters” committee shall include the name of the potential candidate in the name of the committee.
3001.2 Exploratory draft or “testing the waters” committee activities may include polling, travel, and telephone calls to determine whether the individual should become a candidate.
3001.3 Each committee shall not be required to register and file reports; Provided, that its activities are limited to determining whether an individual should become a candidate.
3001.4 For purposes of recordkeeping, each committee shall maintain all financial records under Chapter 34.

In view of the fact that an “exploratory committee” is not required to register and file reports with OCF, as long as it operates within the regulatory guidelines set forth above in 3 DCMR § 3001, there are no restrictions as to when one may be established by a prospective candidate. Specifically, a prospective candidate may collect funds and make expenses to determine the feasibility of his/her candidacy. As soon as the individual has decided to pursue the candidacy, contributions to an exploratory committee should be treated as contributions to the individual’s campaign. Moreover, if there are any remaining funds after the individual has opted for candidacy, the funds may be transferred to an established principal campaign committee up to the contribution limit only.

The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code §1-1103.05, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections and Ethics on this transaction or activity.