What Do the Greens Want From the FEC?

The Green Party has asked the Federal Election Commission to recognize it as a national political party by granting it “national committee status.” What is national committee status? How does the FEC decide which parties qualify?

National committee status gives a party’s national day-to-day operating body greater latitude to raise and spend money under federal election law. Once the FEC grants a party national committee status, 1) the party can make coordinated expenditures on behalf of its House, Senate, and presidential candidates. 2) It can contribute up to $17,500 to a Senate candidate. 3) National committees qualify for higher contribution limits than local and state parties: $20,000 from individuals and $15,000 from political action committees. By contrast, state and local parties can raise only $5,000 from each contributor.

Political parties also want national committee status for the prestige, to signify that they have landed on the national scene. Currently, the FEC grants national committee status to six political parties: the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, Reform, Natural Law, and Constitution parties.

The FEC has established four criteria for parties seeking national committee status:

1) The party must have a sufficient number of candidates for federal office in a sufficient number of states. What does “sufficient” mean? In 1992, the FEC ruled that nine congressional candidates in three states was not sufficient to grant national committee status to the U.S. Taxpayers Party (now called the Constitution Party). Two years later, the FEC ruled that 14 candidates in six states in different sections of the country was sufficient. Also, in a 1996 advisory opinion to the Green Party, the FEC said that a national party must put a presidential candidate on the ballot.

2) The party’s committee must conduct activities such as voter registration drives on an ongoing basis, not just during a particular election.

3) The committee must publicize its issues on a national basis. Ways to do this include publishing a party platform, issuing press releases, and distributing a national newsletter.

4) “Other criteria.” These include holding a national convention, setting up national headquarters, and establishing state party committees.

The passage of campaign-finance reform would likely grant even higher contribution limits for national committees, though the Green Party says it will abide by a self-imposed contribution limit of $10,000.

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Explainer thanks Kelly Huff of the Federal Election Commission, Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics, and David Cobb, senior legal adviser to the Green Party.