New RPAC fundraising ideas are great, and association staff consistently find creative ways to increase REALTOR® support for RPAC. One relatively recent idea combines RPAC fundraising with continuing education courses. If done right, such a fundraising strategy attracts members with the offer of required credits while effectively raising RPAC awareness and investments. There are, however, hurdles to hosting this type of event. As with any RPAC fundraising activity, associations must be sure to comply with applicable campaign finance laws. Here’s how.
Associations promoting RPAC in conjunction with a CE course may do so only by treating it as they would otherwise treat a separate RPAC fundraising event. In other words, all relevant campaign finance laws applicable to an RPAC fundraising event become applicable to the dual RPAC/CE event. And, because most RPAC fundraising events raise both state and federally regulated RPAC investments, such events are regulated by state and federal law. Since it is impossible to address every state law here, we’ll focus on relevant federal campaign finance law, but remember to always check state campaign finance laws for additional requirements.
Promoting the event
RPAC fundraising events can be advertised to and attended by only the solicitable class. As a reminder, the solicitable class is limited to REALTOR® members, association executive and administrative staff, and their respective immediate family members. Because the RPAC/CE event is treated as an RPAC event, it is bound by the solicitable class restriction. This means that advertising and communications promoting the RPAC/CE event can be distributed or made available only to REALTOR® members or association staff. This limits your ability to promote the event using social media because you can post only to private, members-only Facebook groups. Posting on Twitter, Instagram, or any other platforms that do not have a private group feature would violate federal campaign finance law. Your RPAC or education committee chairs can’t post it publicly from their accounts, either.
Funding the event
Associations facilitating an RPAC/CE event may use their general treasury account only to pay for 100% of related food, beverage, and venue expenses. Payments for the CE presenter, CE course materials provided to participants, and RPAC auction items must follow the one-third rule.
The one-third rule limits the amount of money associations may use from their general treasury account for entertainment or enticement costs associated with an RPAC event. Your presenter, materials, and auction items are considered “enticement costs.”
Simply put, an association may not spend more than one-third of the total amount raised at an RPAC event on enticement costs. For example, if you pay a CE instructor $1,000 to teach the relevant course, $200 for CE course materials, and $300 for RPAC auction items, the RPAC/CE event must raise at least $4,500 before you can pay for those things 100% from your general treasury account. If the event raises less than $4,500, then RPAC must reimburse the association for the difference. In the example above, if the event raises $3,000, RPAC must pay the association’s general treasury account $500. (1/3 x $3,000 = $1,000. $1,500 – $1,000 = $500.)
Your RPAC/CE event doesn’t have to segregate the education from the fundraising. You can solicit RPAC contributions at or during the CE course, or the RPAC fundraising portion may be held ancillary to the CE course, either before or after.
The most important rule to remember here is that an association cannot require CE course participants to make an RPAC contribution in order to participate. You can solicit RPAC contributions at the time of CE course registration, but you must include the required notice that RPAC contributions are voluntary, and you must be sure to provide all the legally required solicitation disclaimers. If you charge a fee to attend the CE course, you also must make it clear that the CE course registration fee is separate from any voluntary RPAC contribution. If you offer a CE course at no fee but ask for voluntary RPAC contributions, RPAC contributions cannot be required for participation in the CE course.