Huntsman’s website: Double the donation with one for your spouse

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is leading the Republican presidential primary field when it comes to making it easy to donate on behalf of your spouse.

Huntsman’s campaign website allows supporters to select “Contribution from my spouse and me,” an option that doubles the legal giving limit from $2,500 to $5,000.

The quiet practice of making a donation on behalf of a spouse from a joint account is nothing new, and fine print on the websites of a few other presidential candidates provides instructions for doing so by mail.

What makes Huntsman’s website unique is that it allows supporters to make an online donation on behalf of a spouse via debit or credit card.

“The spousal rule permits one spouse to provide all the money, and to make a contribution for the two of them even if the other has no separate income,” said Columbia Law School Professor Richard Briffault.

Clicking on a box stating “I have authorized my spouse to make this contribution on my behalf” may seem a low hurdle for fraud, but campaign finance experts contacted by The Daily Caller say that the online transactions are not only legal, but that it’s a wonder more candidates aren’t doing it. (Romney leads in NH poll but has slipped)

The Federal Election Commission’s guidance on the matter says that “each donor must sign either the check or an accompanying statement.” A disclaimer in small font on the Huntsman website reads, “Couples may contribute up to $5,000 for each election; joint contributions require the signature of both spouses.”

Michael Beckel, who tracks money in politics for the Center for Responsive Politics, says that the Huntsman campaign appears to be operating within the boundaries of the law.

The disclaimer on the donation page “seems to show the Huntsman campaign is cognizant of the potential legal problems and is taking at least a step toward ensuring his campaign receives only legal contributions,” Beckel says.

Another campaign finance expert, however, believes that one oversight may have ruined an otherwise-savvy fundraising innovation.

Cleta Mitchell, a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, says that, “they have the correct disclaimer language stating that the spouse has to also sign, but they just haven’t included a place for a spouse to check / sign that the contribution is from his/her funds.”

Mitchell says that the “technical glitch” leaves only one consent box and “doesn’t comport with their disclaimer on the bottom which is correct in saying that the spouse’s signature has to also appear.” (Palin says Daily Mail lied about her sobbing because of film)

Without two signatures on a check, the funds in excess of the $2,500 individual giving limit can be “presumptively reattributed” by a campaign to the bank account’s other owner. The campaign then has 60 days to confirm the consent of the second account holder or return the money.

“They are just creating additional work for themselves because they have to send a reattribution letter to anyone who gives more than $2,500 — to reattribute to the spouse and obtain all his/her information,” Mitchell says. “They should just be doing this on the donation page at the outset.”

Beckel says that he’s not sure why other campaigns aren’t also prominently advertising joint giving.

“Maybe the compliance work is more hassle than it’s worth?” Beckel says, adding, “Maybe there’s also a technology piece to the puzzle. I am not sure about all the exact processes in place for online giving this way. The old-fashioned check that has both people’s names on it — and both of their signatures — is a more straight-forward thing to think about.”

Beckel, Mitchell, Briffault and another expert contacted by TheDC all say that same-sex couples, as well as unmarried heterosexual couples, are able to make joint donations if each has contributed at least $2,500 to the shared bank account.

Despite the Huntsman campaign’s possibly inconvenient glitch, joint donations made online may be the wave of the future. Politically mixed couples, beware!