if.then.fund has been carefully crafted to comply with campaign finance laws and regulations, as well as other applicable laws.
No specific information about potential donations (in support of or opposition to a vote) is provided to anyone prior to voting, to ensure compliance with anti-corruption laws. Funds are collected in accordance with FEC Advisory Opinions and are processed by Democracy Engine, LLC, which specializes in online political donation processing. For more details please keep reading.
As we have gotten this project off the ground, we’ve had some folks ask us if what we are doing violates any of the federal anti-corruption laws. The short, and emphatic, answer is no.
Federal anti-corruption law has two primary components: bribery and illegal gratuity.
Bribery (18 U.S.C. § 201(b)) is what we normally think of when we consider official corruption or quid pro quo: someone offers something to an official in exchange for something the official does on their behalf. However, to have bribery, you must have a meeting of the minds, that is, there must be an explicit offer of something of value in exchange for an official act. There is no possibility of quid pro quo bribery through if.then.fund because no information about the nature of any scheduled donation (amount, preferred outcome, etc) is revealed prior to the official act (the vote). Without communication, there can be no “meeting of the minds” and therefore there is no offer (or acceptance) of a bribe. Users are warned against contacting a member of Congress outside our platform to reveal any information about their donation prior to the vote, of course, as the wrong kind of communication could indeed turn their contribution into a bribe.
An illegal gratuity (18 U.S.C. § 201(c)) is a reward given because of an official act. However, contributions to the authorized campaign committee of a candidate have been explicitly excluded from illegal gratuities by the courts (e.g. 165 U.S.App.D.C. 1) and the Department of Justice (USAM). Our entire campaign finance system is predicated on private donations that will always be motivated by approval of the actions — or promises — of a candidate. The law (and the interpretation of the law by the courts) recognizes this tension and, therefore, limits the scope of what constitutes an illegal gratuity to gifts made directly to an official (not his or her campaign).
We also are providing this memorandum, which we commissioned, that further explicates the current state of the anti-corruption laws as they apply to campaign contributions.
The House and Senate each have ethics rules that set guidelines for the receipt of campaign contributions by Members of Congress.
The Senate rules follow the anti-corruption laws discussed above, but the House rules go a step further. To respect the House ethics rules, we do not link specific donations to specific votes. Donations are grouped by desired vote outcome only in aggregate.
Contributions to the re-election campaigns of current members of Congress are made in accordance with FEC Advisory Opinion 2011-06. In this Opinion, the Commission gave Democracy Engine, our payment processing partner, explicit permission to serve as a payment processor for donations to federal candidates and ruled that its processing fees do not constitute a donation to the candidate.
This allows if.then.fund to take small donations, subtract a processing fee and then divide the rest up — into as many as 435 pieces (in the case of a vote in the House) — without having to have each piece (which may be as low as 1 cent) include a share of the fee.
We also offer the opportunity to direct contributions to the next, yet to be determined, general election challenger to a current member of Congress. We also work with Democracy Engine to process these donations, but under a different legal framework.
Challengers on if.then.fund are defined as the general election challenger from the opposing major party in the next general election (in the case of independents we treat her or his party affiliation as the party with which she or he caucuses). In FEC Advisory Opinion 1982-23, the FEC determined that so long as an earmarked donation specifies the office sought, the party affiliation, and the election cycle for the donation, funds could be donated and held pending the identification of the specific candidate. Donations to opponents on if.then.fund are processed as earmarked contributions to Democracy Engine Inc PAC and are held by the PAC until the challenger is identified. By law the PAC must distribute the contribution within 10 days of the opponent becoming known. In the rare situation in which there is no opposition candidate of the specified party, the contribution will be forwarded to the appropriate national party committee.
We are always happy to discuss these issues in further detail, so just drop us a note at .