Under federal campaign finance laws, any time two or more people join together and spend just $1,000 to advocate for or against a candidate for federal office, they become a “political action committee,” or PAC, subject to burdensome red tape and government limits.
One thousand dollars is barely enough to create a simple website, let alone influence a federal election. IJ’s clients in Parker North, Colo., spent at least twice that amount convincing their neighborhood of 300 to vote against annexation. David Keating estimates it would cost at least $500,000 for SpeechNow.org to help elect just two speech-friendly congresspersons in modestly sized (and therefore only moderately expensive) markets.
If forced to become a political committee, SpeechNow.org would have to raise that funding in increments of $5,000 or less from at least 100 donors, and probably many more—a tall order for any new independent group that wants to form quickly to respond to ever-changing political debates.
Federal contribution limits effectively bar all but the most sophisticated groups—those with professional fundraisers and the time to accumulate millions in small increments—from joining the debate.
Perversely, the limits of federal campaign finance law actually make it harder for truly independent citizen groups like SpeechNow.org to make themselves heard at the ballot box.