Published in December 1993
Do you want $3 of your federal tax to go to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund?
As a U.S. taxpayer, you are asked to make this choice when you fill out your 1040
federal income tax return. Before you exercise that choice, you may have some questions:
This brochure provides some answers.
When you check "yes," three of your tax dollars are placed in the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. During each of the last five
years, approximately 33 million taxpayers have checked the "yes" box. Every four
years, the federal government distributes dollars from the Fund (sometimes called public
funds or federal funds) to qualified Presidential candidates and national party committees
for use in the Presidential elections. Whatever money is left over at the end of the
Presidential election remains in the fund and is used in the next election, four years
Nominees in the General Election. The Republican and Democratic nominees in the
general election receive a fixed amount of checkoff dollars. Nominees from other political
parties may qualify for a smaller, proportionate amount of checkoff funds if they receive
over five percent of the vote.
Presidential Primary Candidates. Candidates in the Presidential primaries may
receive checkoff dollars, in the form of matching funds. Contributions of up to $250 from
individuals are matched dollar for dollar. PAC and party contributions are not matchable.
Party Nominating Conventions. The national parties receive checkoff funds to
cover the costs of their national conventions held every four years to select their
Congress set up the checkoff in the early 1970's as an alternative way of funding
Presidential elec tions. Candidates that choose to accept public funds can reduce their
dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups. In the general election,
the public funding system places the two major-party nominees on an equal financial
footing in the campaign.
No. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) certifies the eligibility only of those
candidates who meet the strict qualifications established by Congress.
No. A candidate may choose not to participate in the public funding program. In that
case, the candi date is not bound by the expenditure limits.
Yes. Individuals and political committees may spend money to publicly express their
support for or against candidates, provided there is no coordination with the candidate's
campaign. Additionally, the law allows party committees to spend a limited amount on
behalf of their Presidential nominees.
For the general election, the law provides a fixed amount indexed to inflation. In
1976, each major-party nominee received $21.8 million. By 1992, reflecting inflationary
trends, that amount grew to $55.2 million.
In the Presidential primaries, the total amount paid to campaigns varies from year to
yea r. In 1992, 11 primary candidates received a total of $42.7 million in matching funds.
Most candidates ran as Republicans or Democrats; two third-party candi dates also
qualified for public funds.
Convention funding is a fixed amount indexed to inflation. In 1992, each major party
received $10.6 million to conduct its Presidential nominating con vention.
Candidates spend the checkoff dollars on campaign advertising, campaign staff, campaign
travel, fundraising and other campaign expenses. They may not use the federal money for
personal expenses or for any purpose not related to the campaign.
the end of every Presidential election, the FEC audits the campaigns that receive public
funds. Any unused funds or funds that were not spent for campaign purposes must be
returned to the U.S. Treasury. Since 1976, approximately $8.7 million has been returned to
The FEC administers and enforces the public funding program. For example, the agency:
The IRS monitors the flow of checkoff dollars into the Fund, and the Treasury
Department makes the actual payments to candidates and committees.
No. All of the checkoff money is used for funding Presidential elections.
Costs of administering the program are covered by the FEC's budget, appropriated each
year by Congress.
If a shortfall occurred in the Presidential Fund, the Secretary of the Treasury would
allocate the remain ing funds among the eligible candidates and committees. The law
requires that priority be given first to party nominating conventions, then to general
election nominees and last to primary election candidates. If there were insufficient
funds for the primary election candidates, the Treasury would provide only partial
Checking the "yes" box does not increase the amount of tax you owe, nor does
it decrease any refund to which you are entitled.
establishing the checkoff program, Congress left the single most important decision to
you, the taxpayer. You decide whether you want three dollars of your tax to be used for
the Presidential funding program described in this brochure. The choice is yours to
voluntarily check yes or no.
The Fund is not a separate account but is actually part of the U.S. Treasury.
In order to qualify for matching funds, a candidate
in the primary elections must first raise over $5,000 in each of 20 states (i.e., over
$100,000), consisting of small contributions ($250 or less) from individuals.