Contributions to influence federal elections are subject to the limits (and prohibitions) of the Federal Election Campaign Act. A contribution that exceeds the limits is a violation of the Act. 110.9.
Types of Contributions
The contributions made by a political committee commonly take the form of:
• Gifts of money, including the full purchase price of fundraising items or tickets to fundraisers;
• In-kind contributions (gifts of goods or services);
• Loans (other than bank loans); and
• Guarantees and endorsements of bank loans.
See Chapter 2 for more details.
Party committees within one state are generally subject to the state party’s limits on contributions received and made.
Limits on Contributions to Candidates
As a general rule, the limits on contributions to federal candidates and candidate committees apply separately to each election in which a candidate participates—primary, runoff or general.
$2,000 Per Election
A committee may contribute up to $2,000 to a candidate, per election, unless it has qualified as a multicandidate committee. 110.1(b)(1).
$5,000 Per Election: Multicandidate Status
A multicandidate committee may contribute up to $5,000 per candidate, per election (see below). 110.2(b)(1).
National Committee’s $35,000
Limit for Senate Candidates [1 ]
A national party committee is entitled to contribute up to $35,000 to a U.S. Senate candidate. Unlike the per-election limits, this limit applies to contributions made during the entire campaign period (the primary and general elections). The Democratic and Republican national committees share this limit with their parties’ national Senate campaign committees. 110.2(e).
To qualify as a multicandidate committee—with its higher per-candidate contribution limit—a political committee must:
1. Be registered as a political committee for at least 6 months;
2. Receive contributions (of any amount) from at least 51 contributors; and
3. Make contributions (of any amount) to at least 5 federal candidates. 100.5(e)(3).
There is no time limit for satisfying criteria 2 and 3.
A state party committee need satisfy only the first two criteria in order to qualify as a multicandidate committee.
Qualifying by Affiliation
A party committee that is affiliated with a qualified multicandidate committee is automatically entitled to share that committee’s $5,000 per candidate, per election, contribution limit (since affiliated committees share the same limits on contributions received and made). AOs 1983-19 and 1980-40. For example, a newly registered local party committee automatically qualifies as a multicandidate committee if the state party committee has already achieved multicandidate status. The local committee should file Form 1M along with its Statement of Organization (Form 1).
FEC Form 1M
Each affiliated committee must file its own Form 1M.
FEC Form 3X
A committee must also indicate that it has qualified as a multicandidate committee on Form 3X.
Written Notice to Recipient Candidates
When making contributions, a multicandidate committee must give written notice of its qualified status as a multicandidate committee to recipient candidate committees. 110.2(a)(2). For convenience, committees may choose to print the statement on their checks, letterhead or other appropriate materials.
The amount of an in-kind contribution counts against the contribution limits in the same way as a gift of money. 100.52(d). (See here for information on valuation of in-kind contributions.)
The donor committee needs to notify the recipient candidate committee of the amount of an in-kind contribution. The recipient needs this information in order to monitor the donor’s aggregate contributions and to report the correct amount.
Allocation Among Candidates
When an in-kind contribution is made on behalf of more than one candidate, the amount must be allocated among the candidates in proportion to the relative benefit each is expected to receive. The allocated amount to each candidate is the amount of the committee’s contribution.
In the case of a fundraiser held on behalf of several candidates, the portion of the costs allocated as an in-kind contribution to a particular candidate is based on the ratio of the funds received for that candidate to total funds received for all candidates.
Similarly, in the case of a publication or broadcast supporting several candidates, the allocation is based on the ratio of space or time devoted to each candidate to total space or time for all candidates. 104.10(a); 106.1(a) and (b).
Note that expenses for opinion polls are subject to the allocation rules at 106.4. For more on allocation, see chapter 13.
A party committee may receive earmarked contributions, that is, contributions that the contributor directs be given to a specific candidate. The contribution does not count against the party committee’s limit for the candidate unless it exercises direction or control over the contributor’s choice of candidate. 110.6(d).
Chapter 6 explains the rules for transmitting and reporting earmarked contributions.
Supporting Nonfederal Candidates
Contributions to nonfederal candidates are subject to relevant state and local law.
House and Senate Candidates
As explained earlier, the limits on contributions to U.S. House and Senate candidates apply separately to each election in which a candidate participates. In House and Senate races, each primary election, general election and runoff is considered a separate election with a separate limit. A special election—which may be a primary, general or runoff—also counts as a separate election for the purposes of the contribution limits. 100.2, 110.1(j)(1) and 110.2(i)(1).
Party Caucus or Convention
A party caucus or convention
constitutes a separate election only if it has the authority under state law to
select a nominee for federal office (e.g.,
Candidates Not Running in an Election
A candidate is entitled to receive contributions for a particular election only if he or she seeks office in that election. Thus, a candidate who loses the primary (or otherwise does not participate in the general election) does not have a separate limit for the general. 102.9(e), 110.1(b)(3)(i) and 110.2(b)(3)(i).
A candidate has a separate contribution limit for an election in which he or she is running even if:
• The candidate is unopposed;
• A primary or general election for a particular office is not held because the candidate is unopposed; or
• The general election is not held because the candidate received a majority of votes in the previous election. (The date on which the election would have been held is considered the date of the election.) 110.1(j)(2) and (3); 110.2(i)(2) and (3).
All Presidential primary elections held during an election year are considered one primary election for the purposes of the contribution limits for Presidential candidates. 110.1(j)(1) and 110.2(i)(1). A multicandidate committee, therefore, may give only $5,000 to a Presidential candidate’s primary campaign, regardless of how many separate state Presidential primaries the candidate participates in.
In the general election, contributions to the campaign of a Democratic or Republican nominee receiving public funding are not permitted. Thus state and local parties must be careful that their activities do not constitute a contribution. However, contributions may be made to the candidate’s compliance fund. 9003.3(a)(2).
General election contributions to the Presidential nominee of a nonmajor party are subject to the $2,000 limit or, in the case of multicandidate committees, the $5,000 limit. For more, see here. 110.1(j)(1) and 110.2(i)(1).
The Commission encourages committees, when contributing to candidates, to designate their contributions in writing for a particular election (for example, primary or general). The designation may be made either on the contribution check or in a signed statement accompanying the contribution. 110.1(b)(2)(i), (b)(4) and 110.2(b)(2)(i), (b)(4).
An undesignated contribution automatically counts against the limits for the next scheduled election. 110.1(b)(2)(ii) and 110.2(b)(2)(ii). Therefore, if a committee wishes to make a contribution for any election other than the next one, the contribution must be designated in writing, as explained below.
When Designation Is Required
A written designation is required when a committee wants a contribution to apply toward a future election other than the next one. For example, a committee may make a contribution to a candidate’s general election campaign before the primary election has taken place, but the committee’s check (or an accompanying statement) must say “General” in order to count toward the general election limit.
Past Elections (Debt Retirement)
A committee must similarly designate a contribution for the appropriate election when making a contribution to retire a candidate’s debt from a past election campaign. The committee should be certain that the contribution, when aggregated with other contributions from the committee for that same election, does not exceed the committee’s per-election limit.
The candidate committee may accept the contribution only if the campaign has net debts outstanding with respect to the designated election on the day it receives the contribution. 110.1(b)(3)(i) and (iii) and 110.2(b)(3)(i) and (ii).
Effect of Date Made
A candidate may always accept a designated contribution if it is made before the designated election, regardless of whether the candidate has outstanding debts from that election. However, a designated contribution is subject to the net debts outstanding rule, described above, if it is made after the election for which it is designated. 110.1(b)(3)(ii) and (iii) and 110.2(b)(3)(i) and (ii).
A committee may make an undesignated contribution on or before the day of the election regardless of whether the candidate has debts, even if the candidate does not receive the check until after the election has passed. An undesignated contribution made after the election has passed, however, must be applied to the donor’s limit for the next election. 110.1(b)(2)(ii) and 110.2(b)(2)(ii). For the purposes of the per-election limits, then, it is important to distinguish the date a contribution is made from the date it is received by a candidate.
Determining the Date Made
The date a contribution is made is the date when the committee relinquishes control of the funds. In practice this means that:
• An in-kind contribution is made on the date that the goods or services are provided to the recipient committee.
• A mailed contribution is made on the date of the postmark.
• A hand-delivered contribution is considered made on the date it is delivered to the campaign committee or to an agent of the campaign (such as the candidate). 110.1(b)(6) and 110.2(b)(6).
A candidate committee may ask a committee to redesignate a contribution (or a portion of it) for a different election. Redesignation permits the donor to remedy an excessive contribution so that the excessive portion counts against a different election limit. 110.1(b)(5) and 110.2(b)(5). A committee may comply with a request for redesignation by returning a signed statement redesignating the contribution. The candidate committee must receive the redesignation within 60 days of its receipt of the original contribution. Otherwise, the candidate must refund the excessive portion to the committee. The committee may always request a refund from the candidate instead of providing the redesignation. 103.3(b)(3), 110.1(b)(5)(ii) and 110.2(b)(5)(ii).
In addition to contributing directly to candidate committees, a party committee may support PACs and other unauthorized committees, that is, committees that are not authorized committees of candidates.
Limits on Contributions to Unauthorized Committees
A party committee may make contributions of up to $5,000 per calendar year to a PAC or other unauthorized committee. 110.1(d) and 110.2(d).
Candidate Limits May Apply
A contribution to an unauthorized committee may nevertheless count against the contributing committee’s limit for a candidate if:
• The recipient committee is a single-candidate committee (i.e., an unauthorized committee that supports only one candidate);
• The contributing committee knows that a substantial portion of its contribution will be given to or spent on behalf of a particular candidate; or
• The contributing committee retains control over the contribution. 110.1(h); 110.2(h).
Contributions to Delegates and Delegate Committees
The limits on contributions to delegates and delegate committees are discussed in Appendix D.
Party committees may not make, solicit or direct any contributions or donations outside the limits and prohibitions of federal law to the following organizations:
• 501(c) tax-exempt organizations which make expenditures or disbursements in connection with a federal election or for federal election activity. This prohibition applies if the organization has only applied for tax-exempt status;
• 527 organizations which are not political committees, state or local party committees or authorized campaign committees of a state or local candidate. 300.11(a). See also McConnell v. FEC, 124 S.Ct. 619 at 681-682.
However, state and local party committees may make or direct donations to a state political committee that supports only state and local candidates, and does not make any expenditures or disbursements for federal election activity (FEA). See Chapter 8. 300.37(a)(3)(iv)
When determining if a 501(c) organization makes expenditure or disbursements in connection with federal elections or for federal election activity, a party committee may rely on a certification by the organization if it:
• Is a signed written statement by an authorized representative of the organization who has knowledge of the organization’s activities;
• States that within the current election cycle the organization has not made, and does not intend to make any such expenditures or disbursements; and
• States that the organization does not intend to pay debts incurred in the past election cycle from such expenditures or disbursements.
If the party committee or any of their agents or entities knows the certification to be false, it may not be relied upon. 300.11(c)-(e).
 Beginning in 2005, this figure will be indexed for inflation.
Committees that notified the FEC of their
multicandidate status on Form 3X prior to
 These allocation rules also apply to coordinated party expenditures and exempt party activities.