April 11, 2012; Source: Washington Post

To say that Repledge’s program of diverting campaign contributions to charities is a bit confusing is an understatement. According to the Washington Post, the scheme to take money out of electoral politics and shift it to charities would work like this:

“Donors from each party would pledge a certain amount during fund drives at the firm’s Web site, www.repledge.com. Once the time expired, Repledge would divvy up equal amounts from each side to be given to charities chosen by the donors. Any remainder would be given to political candidates. Thus, if supporters of President Obama pledged $60,000 and backers of Mitt Romney promised $50,000, $100,000 would be distributed to charity and the remaining $10,000 would go to the Obama campaign.”

“It’s Match.com for political opposites who would still like to support their candidate but are disappointed with the tremendous amount of funds going into campaign finances,” according to Repledge co-founder Eric Zolt, a law professor from the University of California at Los Angeles. Zolt is a former Treasury Department official in the Office of Tax Policy and the co-founder of the African Tax Institute. His partners in Repledge are Jonathan DiBenedetto, a management consultant, and Noah Arnstein, a fourth-year J.D./M.B.A. student at UCLA and the co-founder of a venture capital-backed entertainment technology company.

NPQ tried the demo for Repledge, donating a hypothetical dollar to either Romney or Obama (we won’t say which), and choosing one of four listed charities (we won’t say which)—Doctors Without Borders-USA, the Fisher House Foundation, the Sierra Club Foundation, and the American Red Cross. Upon “repledging,” this message appeared: “Thank you for your pledge of $1.00! When the Fund Drive is over, your matched funds will go to [nonprofit’s name redacted by NPQ]. Any unmatched funds will go to [candidate’s name redacted by NPQ].”

The Federal Election Commission is looking at Repledge because the scheme would need the FEC’s approval. Draft opinions by FEC lawyers hint at reservations, one being that the idea would “violate the prohibition on a corporation facilitating contributions to candidates or political committees.” The other is that, rather than solely diverting money to charities, the plan “in essence…serves as an elaborate fundraising device” for political campaigns.

If Repledge’s proposal is accepted by the FEC, the strategy is that pledges to Repledge would count against individuals’ contribution limits to candidates—even if the money ends up going to charities instead of the political campaigns. Would this really divert money away from campaign financing into charities, or would it service as a campaign fundraising strategy to draw political donations from donors to the named charities? –Rick Cohen