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DPI asks for FEC guidance on new state chair, temporarily installs Michael Dorf as state funds chair

Friday, Apr 16, 2021

* Press release…

The Democratic Party of Illinois (DPI) today announced it has requested an advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission.

In a letter, DPI presented three possible scenarios for a governance structure to the FEC for its input. Once the FEC provides its guidance, DPI will put a governance structure in place to ensure compliance with all state and federal campaign finance laws. See letter to the FEC attached.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly is not the first federal officeholder to chair a state party. The Democratic Party of Georgia is currently chaired by Congresswoman Nikema Williams and until recently the Republican Party of Colorado was chaired by Congressman Ken Buck. However, the FEC has not previously issued guidance on how a federal officeholder can lead a state or local political party and ensure compliance with federal campaign finance laws and regulations.

“I’ve pledged to lead the state party in a more inclusive manner with more voices at the table, and we are seeking guidance from the FEC that would allow for additional members of the state central committee to serve in a leadership role,” Kelly said. “We’ve provided several approaches to the FEC that adhere to the law and solidify our collective vision to engage more people and voices in the state party platform. As the first woman and first woman of color to chair the Democratic Party of Illinois, and with the involvement of a diverse set of voices across our state, I’m confident we’ll move forward electing Democrats up and down the ballot.”

The FEC is expected to provide a response within 30-60 days, and DPI has requested an expedited response.

Additionally, election attorney Michael Dorf has been named chair of DPI’s state fund, ensuring compliance with all state campaign finance laws while DPI waits for guidance from the FEC.

Dorf replaces Karen Yarbrough on the paperwork.

* From the letter

This advisory opinion request deals with the last of these restrictions, specifically 52 U.S.C. § 30125(d)’s prohibition of a Federal candidate or officeholder, or an entity that is “established, financed, maintained, or controlled by” a Federal candidate or officeholder, from raising or spending funds in non-Federal elections unless those funds do not exceed limits imposed under the Act, and do not come from sources prohibited under the Act (collectively, the “Non-Federal Funds Ban”).

The Non-Federal Funds Ban was “premised on Congress’ judgment that if a large donation is capable of putting a Federal candidate in the debt of the contributor, it poses a threat of corruption or the appearance of corruption.” As Senator John McCain, one of the principal sponsors of BCRA, explained, the Non-Federal Funds Ban was part of a “system of prohibitions and limitations on the ability of Federal officeholders and candidates, to raise, spend and control soft money” in order “to stop the use of soft money as a means of buying influence and access with Federal officeholders and candidates.”

* Potential issues

• Whether the Congresswoman has the authority or ability to direct or participate in the DPI State Account’s governance through provisions of constitutions, bylaws, contracts, or other rules, or through formal or informal practices or procedures.

• Whether the Congresswoman has the authority or ability to hire, appoint, demote, or otherwise control the DPI State Account’s officers or other decision-making employees or members.

• Whether the Congresswoman provides funds or goods in a significant amount or on an ongoing basis to the DPI State Account, such as through direct or indirect payments for administrative, fundraising, or other costs.

• Whether the Congresswoman causes or arranges for funds in a significant amount or on an ongoing basis to be provided to the DPI State Account.

* Proposed options

Option 1: The Special Committee
Under Option 1, the DPI would establish a Special Committee, consisting entirely of individuals who are not Federal candidates or officeholders, to administer the DPI’s State Account. The Special Committee would have complete responsibility for the State Account’s operations and activities, without the review or approval of Congresswoman Kelly. Among other things, the Special Committee would be responsible for the State Account’s fundraising (including solicitations), and spending (including decisions related to contributions by the State Account, advertising on behalf of candidates, and transfers). In carrying out these responsibilities, the Special Committee could delegate responsibilities to one or more individuals associated with the DPI, provided that the individuals in question are not Federal candidates or officeholders.

Congresswoman Kelly would also be restricted from “financing” the State Account. Among other things, the Congresswoman would not make contributions or transfers to the State Account from her personal funds or her Congressional campaign, nor would the Congresswoman solicit non-Federal funds on behalf of the State Account.

Option 2: The Delegate
Under Option 2, the DPI would delegate the administration of the DPI’s State Account to a Vice Chair. Much as under Option 1, that Vice Chair would have complete responsibility for the State Account’s operations and activities, without the review or approval of Congresswoman Kelly. Among other things, the Vice Chair would be responsible for the State Account’s fundraising (including solicitations), and spending (including decisions related to contributions by the State Account, advertising on behalf of candidates, and transfers). As under Option 1, the Vice Chair would be permitted to delegate responsibilities to one or more individuals associated with the DPI, provided that the individuals in question are not Federal candidates or officeholders. The same restrictions on “financing” described under Option 1 would also be in place under Option 2.

Option 3: Recusal
Under Option 3, Congresswoman Kelly would recuse herself from all matters involving the State Account. Among other things, Congresswoman Kelly would not participate in decisions regarding: (i) the State Account’s fundraising, including solicitations; (ii) spending, including decisions related to contributions by the State Account, advertising on behalf of candidates, and transfers; or (iii) personnel, including the supervision and review of individuals tasked with running the State Account. The same restrictions on “financing” described under Option 1 would also be in place under Option 3.

All of these proposed options are basically the same objections raised by the other side during the campaign for DPI chair.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

20 Comments
  1. - Wowie - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 11:28 am:

    Who could’ve seen this coming??


  2. - Mockery - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 11:30 am:

    Michael Dorf was not elected chair of DPI, Kelly was elected. He’s not even a member of the state central committee. For the first time in a long time the party has raised zero dollars unattributed to Madigan. I like the idea of Robyn Kelly as chair, but clearly this is a huge mistake and the party should fix this ASAP before the party becomes even less relevant.


  3. - Golden - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 11:37 am:

    I take comfort that the man who organized this unforced debacle is second in command of the US Senate.


  4. - Nick - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 11:44 am:

    Well

    They *were* told ahead of time this could be a problem…


  5. - Southern Skeptic - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 11:54 am:

    What a total cluster. I’m sure the FEC will get back to the party in about a year. What are we supposed to do until then? Just operate a party that can’t fundraise heading into an election year. They were warned and yet they persisted…and I don’t mean that in a good way. So dumb.


  6. - SouthSide Markie - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 12:01 pm:

    I agree with what’s been written and add that the scenarios presented are either going to end up as a sham or a neutered, useless figure head leading the Democrats. A party leader who can neither raise nor make contributions is useless.


  7. - Scott Cross for President - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 12:07 pm:

    Kelly is following through on what she said she’d do: ask the FEC what the guardrails should be and then follow them. Looks good.

    And Dorf is a good, sharp election law atty and was already the Treasurer of this particular account, ie the DPI State Fund. If Yarborough asked to be replaced as Chair of this account, then Dorf is a good replacement while the FEC reviews the DPI letter.

    Looking good so far


  8. - Candy Dogood - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 12:07 pm:

    An organization that relies on activists cannot be inclusive without decentralization of authority. They’re building a new organization to replace a structure where basically all authority rested with one person.

    I think I’m going to give them a few months to see what they come up with and judge their product.


  9. - Overland - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 12:21 pm:

    Bravo Team Durbin. This is incredible work and will send the state party into a worm hole for months and months to come.


  10. - DuPage Dem - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 12:23 pm:

    Dorf is not a good, smart election lawyer and it should concern every Democrat who cares about the party that an election firm like Perkins Coie was not asked to help sort out this mess. The Party’s most important job is to raise money it can use to help candidates and stay out of the news and not cause controversy that candidates have to answer for. So far they are failing on both fronts. The state central committee needs to fix their mistake.


  11. - uialum - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 12:28 pm:

    So who appointed Dorf to be Chair of the Party? If Robin Kelly appointed him then she is giving herself some approval over the use of state funds by naming the person in charge. If the entire State Central Committee voted for him to be temporary Chair then why not say that and why not install another member of the SCC, which I thought was a requirement for the Party.


  12. - 47th Ward - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 12:49 pm:

    ===I think I’m going to give them a few months to see what they come up with and judge their product.===

    Agreed. Well said.


  13. - OneMan - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 1:03 pm:

    If this was a book, people would be complaining that the foreshadowing was a little too obvious.


  14. - Thomas Paine - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 1:25 pm:

    The funds are controlled by the state party, which Robin Kelly controls.

    As an earlier commenter pointed out, just ask Robin Kelly whether she approved of Dorf being appointed chair of the committee.

    The point McCain made was that there must be even the perception of influence buying. Look at the Clinton Foundation scandals and tell me that is possible.

    You think Michael Bloomberg could write a $100K check to DPI and no one would perceive a connection to Robin Kelly?

    Does anyone believe DPI could, if it wanted, take action that was opposed by Congresswoman Kelly, which is the true rest of Independence?

    How is Chairman Dorf at fundraising calls?


  15. - thisjustinagain - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 1:39 pm:

    So, we’ll go ahead and appoint someone that two experienced lawyers already told us we should really think extra hard about the appointment because it appears unlawful, THEN after doing it we’ll ask the FEC if what we did was legal, or how we can make it legal.

    I recall the late Adlai Stevenson saying he didn’t belong to an organized party; he was a Democrat, but this is just such a terrible look for Illinois politics as a whole. Kelly should have asked for that advisory review BEFORE taking the position.


  16. - Frank talks - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 1:47 pm:

    Nice haul by the House GOP today and this news of inability of the Dems to raise, may peak KG’s interest to start dropping Fair Tax type money?


  17. - SouthSide Markie - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 2:00 pm:

    All three scenarios are one oppo dump away from becoming an FEC enforcement action. If you think that surviving one of those proceedings even with a good outcome doesn’t leave consequences, talk to Carol Moseley Braun.


  18. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 3:24 pm:

    Ace Rothstein moved from one position to another to run a casino. Why? He couldn’t run the casino otherwise… without doing things he didn’t want to do (vet for a license)

    The phony that was “Kelly can do it” is now met with Rothstein type shuffling “until”….

    No sympathy, it’s actually not funny but really embarrassing, and someone needs to realize power for it’s own sake still has rules… even outside wants.


  19. - Responsa - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 4:02 pm:

    For whatever reason Kelly’s rival for the DPI job was enough of an anathema or threat to some party higher up that they were willing to subject the party to this embarrassment and internecine conflict. I do not get it and I hope the truth comes out at some point because the situation gets fuzzier and fuzzier.


  20. - Back to the Future - Friday, Apr 16, 21 @ 4:39 pm:

    I don’t think the Pritzker/Madigan candidate was a bad candidate.
    She was elected in her ward and has a reputation of being a hard working, bright person.
    She only had two negative things going against her.
    One was Pritzker and the other was Madigan.


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