A national Tea Party group has asked the Federal Election Commission for permission to expand its ability to raise unlimited contributions. If its petition is successful, the case will further chip away at the old regime of regulations that has governed political speech for decades. 

Employee Leadership Fund (ELF), which is a “connected PAC” of Stop This Insanity Inc. (STI), has asked the FEC to approve its opening of a so-called Carey account. That account, also known as a super PAC account, would allow it to raise unlimited amounts of money from the general public and other organizations. As of right now, ELF can only raise contributions from a “restricted class” of its employees while its parent group, STI, can pay its operating expenses. 

If its request is successful, “what’s going to change is that connected PACs are going to be able to raise money from the general public and organizations in unlimited amounts – that’s an advantage,” ELF attorney Dan Backer, the lead counsel in the Carey v. FEC case, told C&E. “It would essentially knock down a barrier that we don’t think is really there anymore.”

STI is an educational organization that operates the website TheTeaParty.net.

The Carey v. FEC case concerned a PAC run by James Carey, a retired Navy admiral. That organization, the National Defense PAC (ND PAC), supported candidates who had served in the Armed Forces. Its support came primarily through direct contributions to candidates, which were limited by law. But taking advantage of the SpeechNow.org case and other precedents, ND PAC also wanted to accept unlimited contributions to spend on its own advertisements.

A federal court ultimately issued a stinging injunction against the FEC. While Carey could set up another PAC to make independent expenditures (IEs), that would double his group’s record-keeping and registration burdens – not to mention dilute ND PAC’s name recognition. Carey and his team preferred to handle both direct contributions and IEs within ND PAC, using segregated bank accounts for the two pools of funds. The U.S. District Court for D.C. agreed, and the FEC entered into a settlement conceding the unconstitutionality of regulations forbidding ND PAC’s arrangement. 

But that arrangement only applied to so-called non-connected PACs – those without a parent organization. Backer’s clients are asking for approval to apply the Carey ruling to connected PACs. “Everyone wants to comply with the law,” said Backer, an attorney with DB Capitol Strategies. “We just want to make sure what the law is.

“We should make it easy to speak in politics and unclear rules don’t help,” he added. “Nobody wants to go to jail over this stuff.”

ELF filed its request earlier this month. The FEC has 60 days to respond. Backer said he expects a ruling in early March.