As Election Law blogger Professor Rick Hasen recently reported, last December, the Federal Election Commission deadlocked on whether to continue to pursue charges that Sean Hannity violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) by sending out a fundraising email in support of failed Republican congressional candidate John Gomez.
On June 24, 2010, New York state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs filed a complaint alleging that Hannity, Gomez, and the companies that run his radio show, Premiere Radio Networks and Clear Channel, violated FECA. Jacobs based the complaint on the fact that Hannity sent out a fundraising pitch for Gomez to all subscribers of Hannity.com using Clear Channel corporate emails with a "DONATE NOW" hyperlink embedded in the email. The complaint alleged that Hannity, Premiere, and Clear Channel "normally charge" for third-parties to send e-mails to Hannity's e-mail list, but did not for the Gomez email. The complaint added that "the provision of the free hyperlink is an illegal corporate contribution to Gomez."
The complaint also alleged that "the email itself was also an illegal contribution."
The FEC has now closed the case without taking action against Hannity, but two Democratic members of the commission, which is equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, voted against a finding that there is "no reason to believe that Sean Hannity violated 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a)" of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The third Democratic member of the commission, Cynthia Bauerly, a former legislative director for New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D), abstained from voting.
The three Republican members of the commission voted to clear Hannity, but it takes a vote of four members of the commission to make such a decision. Therefore, the FEC closed the case without making a final determination about whether Hannity broke the law.
But it now seems that Hannity's activities may also skate close to the edge of what's allowed by federal election law.