WASHINGTON — The Federal Election Commission Thursday cleared the way for Vice President George Bush's political action committee to press on with an effort to help local party delegates get elected in Michigan, rejecting the view of its legal staff and critics who say the effort is designed to promote Bush's unannounced presidential candidacy.
The commission made its ruling in response to a request for an advisory opinion from Bush's political action committee, the Fund for America's Future, about its activities in Michigan. The Republican Party primary this August in that state will begin the process of selecting delegates to the 1988 GOP national convention and has already touched off a lively competition between supporters of Bush and those of other likely Republican presidential candidates.
Bush's PAC, whose ostensible purpose is to support GOP candidates for office and strengthen the Republican Party, has a paid staff of 13 in the state and plans to spend $100,000 on the primary campaign. In its request to the commission, the PAC sought approval of its efforts to recruit candidates for precinct delegates in the August vote.
Part of Nominating Process
Noting that the delegates elected in the primary will attend a subsequent county convention to choose delegates to the state convention--who in turn will pick delegates to the national nominating convention--the commission's legal staff concluded in a draft opinion that the primary should be considered a "part of the Republican presidential nominating process for 1988." Accordingly, the PAC's expenditures would be treated as a contribution to Bush's presidential campaign.
If that view had prevailed, Bush would have been forced either to abandon his efforts in Michigan or find some other method of financing them because under federal law a PAC is not allowed to contribute more than $5,000 to a presidential candidacy. Moreover, the vice president might have been forced to set up a presidential campaign committee long before his advisers believe such a move would be politically wise.
However, a majority of the six-member commission refused to accept the staff position, arguing instead that the August vote in Michigan was too remote from the presidential nominating process to be considered a part of it. Commissioner Thomas J. Josefiak, whose amendment to the proposed staff opinion was accepted by a 4-2 vote, contended that because the precinct delegate candidates will not be identified on the ballot as committed to any presidential candidate, the efforts by Bush's PAC to recruit and elect them was activity "without any strings attached."
No Direct Selection
Furthermore, Josefiak pointed out that precinct delegates would not directly select the delegates to the party's national convention.
In a dissenting opinion, Commissioner Thomas E. Harris argued that the commission had refused to acknowledge "what everyone knows: that Vice President Bush is running for President and is financing his campaign through the Fund for America's Future, which he organized and controls."
Common Cause President Fred Werthheim said the commission ruling "does a serious disservice to campaign finance laws, is blatantly unfair to the potential Republican presidential candidates and will further undermine the commission's credibility with the public."