Delaware GOP Calls Tea Party Express's Fundraising Approach Illegal

The Delaware GOP, which is supporting Congressman Mike Castle in the state's senate primary, has alleged that the campaign of Christine O'Donnell and the group Tea Party Express have engaged in illegal campaign activity.

You can read the group's 27-page complaint to the Federal Election Commission here: Delaware GOP complaint.pdf

The complaint rests on a few points.

One is that Tea Party Express and the O'Donnell campaign have engaged in message coordination, which is barred under federal election law. Third-party groups are generally not allowed to coordinate their messages with campaigns. (Democratic groups, for instance, couldn't call the Obama campaign in 2008 and ask, "Hey, so what should we say in our ads?")

Another is that Tea Party Express solicited earmarked donations to the O'Donnell campaign, and that this is illegal. This calls into question the entire strategy Tea Party Express employs in elections across the country

The group sends out many e-mail fundraising requests, and the ones I've seen have consisted of the basic pitch: give us money so we can support Christine O'Donnell. The Delaware GOP quotes elections regulations as saying that earmarked donations are basically illegal.

If the intermediary or the conduit exercises any direction or control over the choice of the recipient candidate, however, the contributions are treated as contributions from both the original contributor and from the intermediary of conduit to the recipient candidate...Commission regulations define "earmarked" as "a designation, instruction, or encumbrance, whether direct or indirect, express or implied, oral or written, which results in all or any part of a contribution or expenditure being made to, or expended on behalf of, a clearly identified candidate or candidate's authorized committee."

The Delaware GOP is arguing that Tea Party Express, by soliciting donations earmarked to be spent (by the group) in support of O'Donnell, has donated more to her campaign than the $5,000 it is legally allowed to give her per election.

Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell responds, saying he doesn't think the group has gone over the $5,000 limit in direct donations.

"We know and abide by the FEC rules and spending limits," Russel said in an e-mail.

UPDATE: It's worth pointing out that this is an indictment of other political groups as well. Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund, for instance, has a website that lets people enter contributions earmarked for any of their endorsed candidates, with fields next to the candidates' names and faces where supporters can enter how much they want to give to support each candidate.