Prospect Research · Ethics · Ask the Ethicist
Ask the Ethicist: Can You Repurpose Political Donor Lists for Fundraising?
I was given a list of people who donated to our CEO's previous gubernatorial campaign back in 2018. They want us to use this list for prospects and I've been asked to wealth screen them. I am not currently aware of their overall plan, but my guess is they want to solicit these individuals for our nonprofit organization. Is this legal? I've been reviewing the Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules, and I can't make out whether it's okay or not because these were political donors — but we did not find them from an FEC list.
Conflicted by Campaign Data
Thank you for reaching out and sharing your concerns. Navigating the complexities of repurposing political donor lists for fundraising can be a challenging and ethically sensitive task. Your inquiry shines a light on an issue many in the nonprofit sector grapple with, and your dedication to ethical practices is commendable. Let's delve into this dilemma.
First, it's crucial to recognize the donors in question contributed to a political candidate and not your organization. The ethical principle of donor intent dictates that funds should be used in line with the donors' original intentions. Repurposing a list of political donors for nonprofit fundraising may undermine this principle.
Moreover, repurposing the list without proper consent or disclosure may run afoul of limitations set by the FEC. Utilizing a political campaign list for nonprofit fundraising without clear legal authorization could potentially lead to legal complications.
Beyond the legal considerations, it's essential to understand the potential ethical concerns. Using a list of political donors for nonprofit fundraising may create an impression of impropriety or misuse of donor information. This can harm the organization's reputation and donor trust — two critical assets for any nonprofit.
So, what steps can be taken to navigate this situation ethically?
Transparent communication: The researcher should initiate a candid conversation with the CEO and other relevant stakeholders. Explain the potential ethical and legal concerns surrounding use of the political donor list. Emphasize the importance of transparency and ethical fundraising practices.
Legal consultation: Consult with legal counsel to ensure all actions comply with FEC regulations and state campaign finance laws. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to navigating complex legal issues.
Policy review: Review your organization's policies related to fundraising and donor management. Ensure these policies are clear and align with ethical and legal standards.
Obtain consent: If the decision is made to proceed with using the list, seek explicit consent from the donors. Contact each donor individually, explaining the organization's mission and how their support would make a meaningful impact.
In conclusion, repurposing a list of political donors for nonprofit fundraising is a situation fraught with ethical and legal considerations. It's essential to prioritize transparency, donor intent and compliance with relevant regulations. Ethical fundraising practices not only protect the organization from potential risks but also uphold its integrity and reputation within the nonprofit sector.
As a researcher, your role includes advocating for ethical practices and protecting your organization's values. By addressing these concerns proactively and responsibly, you can help your nonprofit navigate this complex terrain while preserving its ethical standing.
This question was submitted anonymously to the Apra Ethics and Compliance Committee (ECC) inbox. If you’d like to ask a question, contact us at email@example.com.