So you want to start a political party in the United States?

Well first, you’ll need to know everything there is to know about the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the watchdog which oversees the US political system by disclosing campaign finance info and enforcing Federal election law.

First, note that, as of this writing and for the foreseeable future, the Commission, which was created in 1974 in the aftermath of Watergate, lacks a quorum of at least four out of six total commissioners. This means that, while spending by Federal political candidates and committees is still reported by the FEC, the FEC currently provides no real-time enforcement of disclosure requirements or any other Federal election law. And it doesn’t appear that either Republicans or Democrats are in any hurry to rectify the situation, at least as of this writing > the White House long ago nominated a Republican attorney as the next Federal Election Commissioner, and the Democrats have in turn suggested for nomination the executive assistant of a former FEC Commissioner.

That said, it’s still a good idea to know the law, because, if nothing else, the FEC can still retroactively enforce campaign finance laws if and when it does regain a quorum.

The most basic FEC rules to know are those regarding disclaimers in advertising:

  1. Public Communications by a Candidate or a Committee need a disclaimer
  2. “Public Communications” are defined as TV ads, newspaper ads, billboards, websites, 500+ recipient emails, etc.
  3. If a “person” pays for a communication (including any solicitation) that refers to a candidate but is not authorized by any candidate or campaign, a notice must state that the communication was not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee, identify the entity that paid for the communication and provide at least one of the following: the payor’s permanent street address, telephone number or website address (it’s possible that the new Facebook setup regarding ads for “Social Issues, Elections or Politics,” where an individual can be cleared to pay for such ads, fulfills these FEC regulations).

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