Ethics panel: Caucuses must follow spending limits
By JIM WALLS
Party caucuses in the Georgia Legislature are not exempt from limits on campaign spending, the State Campaign Finance Commission decided this week.
State law limits how much donors may give in cash or in-kind contributions to individual candidates (last year, the cap was $2,400 for a legislative candidate). Political parties are exempt when they are supporting more than one named candidate, a loophole that allows both major parties to spend millions of dollars in Georgia campaigns that they otherwise couldn’t.
Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate claimed they fell under that same exemption. The caucuses dropped $60,000 or more last summer on mailings supporting Sen. Vincent Fort and Rep. Rashad Taylor, touting their accomplishments, attacking their opponents and, in the fine print, asking voters to support a couple other candidates.
Party leaders argued the caucuses were a part of the state Democratic organization and thus — as long as other candidates were mentioned — unencumbered by contribution limits. But they said the caucuses make their own spending decisions and therefore were not bound by bylaws that forbid the party from supporting one Democrat over another in a contested primary.
The Campaign Finance Commission, in an advisory opinion approved Tuesday, found that parties and caucuses are not the same. The Ethics in Government Act defines parties as political organizations that nominate candidates for governor or for president. Caucuses fall under the definition of “political committees,” which can’t nominate anybody. The commission said:
“If the General Assembly intended the exemption … to apply to legislative caucuses, it could have accomplished this by including the defined term ‘political committees’ in the exemption. We must resume that the Legislature’s failure to do so was intentional and that the exemption only applies to political parties as defined under the Act.”
Footnote: I’m the one who requested this advisory opinion to clarify the commission’s interpretation of the law.