2009-03-27 - WRITTEN OPINIONS

2009-03-27. WRITTEN OPINIONS

GARY O. BARTLETT

Executive Director

MAILING ADDRESS:

P.O. BOX 27255

RALEIGH, NC 27611-7255

March 27, 2009

Mr. John Wallace

Wallace and Nordan L.L.P.

Post Office Box 12065

Raleigh, North Carolina 27612

Re: Request pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-278.23; campaign finance laws applicable to candidate political committees after elected official leaves office

Dear Mr. Wallace:

An advisory opinion is requested to provide guidance to a political committee of an elected official when that elected official completes their term of office and will no longer be serving as an elected official. More specifically, do campaign finance laws governing political committees change when an elected official leaves office, but continues to maintain an active political committee?

In accordance with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-278.6(14), an entity that qualifies as a political committee continues to be a political committee if it receives contributions or makes expenditures or maintains assets or liabilities. It is not until a political committee "winds up its operations, disposes of its assets, and files a final report" that it ceases to exist.

Contributors making contributions to candidate political committees in order to pay outstanding loans or retire campaign debt are subject to the contribution limitations described in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-278.13(a). As provided by statute, the contribution limitations are per election. In the case of a candidate who does not intend to be a candidate in the next election, the time period would still be from the day after the date of the last election for the office that candidate had been seeking until the day of the next primary or election for that same office. Is it not necessary for the candidate to actually be on the ballot for that next election.

With respect to reporting requirements, a candidate political committee may not be required to report as often as they were when actively seeking public office. For candidate political committees not established for a municipal office, N. C. Gen. Stat. § 163-278.9 provides that during even-numbered years during which there is an election for that candidate or in which the candidate committee is supporting or opposing a candidate, the treasurer shall file on the quarterly reporting schedule. However, if there is not an election for that candidate and their political committee is not supporting or opposing any other candidate during that year, then the candidate committee would only be required to file semi-annually.

It is also important to note the regulations regarding expenditures as provided in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-278.16B. Candidate political committees are only permitted to use their political committee funds for eight purposes. They are as follows:

1. Expenditures resulting from the campaign for public office by the candidate or the candidate's campaign committee.

2. Expenditures resulting from holding public office.

3. Contributions to an organization described in section 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (26 U.S.C. § 170(c)), provided that the candidate or the candidate's spouse, children, parents, brothers, or sisters are not employed by the organization.

4. Contributions to a national, State, or district or county committee or a political party or a caucus of the political party.

5. Contributions to another candidate or candidate's campaign committee.

6. To return all or a portion of a contribution to the contributor.

7. Payment of any penalties against the candidate or candidate's campaign committee for violation of this Article imposed by a board of elections or a court of competent jurisdiction.

8. Payment to the Escheats Fund established by Chapter 116B of the General Statutes.

One question that may arise is whether candidate political committee funds can be used to explore running for office in the future. That would appear to be an appropriate expenditure under number one above.

Other questions may arise as a result of holding public office. Expenditures for staff, travel and correspondence with the public necessitated by an individual's service in public office would appear to be appropriate under number two.

Before making an expenditure, the committee should satisfy itself that the expenditure is for one of the above permissible purposes. If specific guidance is needed on the permissibility of a particular expenditure, this office is available to provide that guidance.

The guidance provided in this opinion is written in accordance with N.C. Gen. Stat. 163-278.23. This opinion will be filed with the Codifier of Rules to be published unedited in the North Carolina Register and the North Carolina Administrative Code.

Sincerely,

@#11#@

Gary O. Bartlett

Executive Director

cc: Julian Mann, III, Codifier of Rules

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