In addition to making contributions, party committees may support a candidate through other activities. These other activities are reportable by the political party committee but not by the campaign of the candidate receiving the support. Note that some of these activities may trigger additional reporting responsibilities or funding provisions for the party committee.
Coordinated party expenditures
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) creates a special exception to the contribution limits for certain party activities supporting candidates. The national party committee and the state party committee each have an additional special contribution limit for coordinated party expenditures made in connection with the general election campaigns of U.S. House and Senate candidates.
Although these expenditures may be coordinated with a campaign, the party committee must actually make the expenditure on behalf of the campaign; money given directly to the candidate’s campaign is not a coordinated party expenditure.
Coordinated party expenditures vs. In-kind contributions
When making either coordinated party expenditures or in-kind contributions, a party committee purchases goods or services for the benefit of a candidate's campaign. The party committee may decide whether to treat an expenditure made on behalf of the candidate as a coordinated party expenditure or as an in-kind contribution. (Monetary contributions given directly to the campaign do not qualify as coordinated party expenditures.)
Despite their similarity, coordinated party expenditures differ from in-kind contributions in several ways:
- Coordinated party expenditures may be made in connection with the general election only (although they may be made during the primary period), whereas in-kind contributions may be made for any election. A post general runoff does not constitute a general election triggering an additional coordinated party expenditure allowance.
- Coordinated party expenditures count toward the special spending limits explained above, whereas in-kind contributions count against the committee's per-candidate, per-election limits on contributions.
- Coordinated party expenditures are reported by the party committee only, whereas in-kind contributions and party coordinated communications are reported by both the party committee and the recipient candidate committee.
Party independent expenditures
Party committees may make independent expenditures on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates. Such expenditures are not subject to contribution or coordinated party expenditure limits.
Since independent expenditures expressly advocate the election or defeat of federal candidates, they must be financed with funds from the party’s federal account.
Exempt party activities
Two types of grassroots activities–preparation, display and distribution of campaign materials and slate cards–undertaken by state and local party committees in support of specific federal candidates are unlimited because they are exempt from the definition of contribution. There is a third type of exempt activity for registration and GOTV activity conducted by a state or local party committee on behalf of the presidential and vice presidential nominees of that party. Note that although they are exempt from contribution limitations, such activities often qualify as Federal Election Activity (FEA) and thus may be subject to certain funding restrictions. Moreover, payments made by an unregistered party organization for such materials count towards the organization's FEC registration threshold for political committees.
A state or local party committee or organization may prepare and distribute campaign materials such as pins, bumper stickers, handbills, brochures, posters or yard signs. The payments are not considered contributions or expenditures if the following conditions are met:
- The activity is conducted on behalf of the party's nominees for the general election;
- The materials are distributed by volunteers, not through public advertising such as broadcast media, newspapers, magazines or billboards or by direct mail (that is, a mailing by a commercial vendor or from commercial lists),
- The party committee does not use materials purchased by the national party committee or money transferred from the national party committee specifically to purchase the materials;
- The party committee does not use funds designated by a donor for a particular candidate; and
- A payment from a state or local candidate committee to help pay for the materials does not exceed the candidate committee's share of the expenses.
Slate cards and sample ballots
A state or local party committee or organization may prepare and distribute a slate card, sample ballot, palm card or other printed list naming candidates for any public office. The payments are not considered contributions or expenditures on behalf of any federal candidate listed as long as the following conditions are met:
- The list names at least three candidates running for any election to any public office for which an election is held in the state;
- The list is not distributed through public advertising, such as broadcast media, newspapers, magazines or billboards. Note however, that it may be distributed by direct mail (that is, a mailing by a commercial vendor or from a commercial list); and
- The content is limited to the identification of each candidate (pictures may be used), the office or position currently held, the office sought and party affiliation. The list must exclude any additional biographical data on candidates and their positions on issues as well as statements on party philosophy. Certain voting information, however, may be given, such as time, place and instructions on voting a straight party ticket.
Voter drives for presidential nominee
A state or local party committee may conduct a voter registration or get-out-the-vote drive on behalf of the party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees without the payments being considered contributions or expenditures as long as the following conditions are met:
- The activity does not involve the use of public political advertising such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards or direct mail (mailings by a commercial vendor or from commercial lists).
- Phone banks are operated by volunteers (although paid professionals may design the system, develop calling instructions and train supervisors).
- The party committee does not use funds transferred by the national party committee for such voter drive activities.
- The party committee does not use funds designated for a particular federal candidate.
- Cost allocable to federal candidates are paid with permissible funds.
Any reference to a House or Senate candidate must be incidental to the overall activity; otherwise, the cost allocable to the House or Senate candidate is an in-kind contribution or coordinated party expenditure on behalf of that candidate.
Sources of funds
Many local party organizations are not registered political committees under the Act and some may, under state law, accept donations that would be prohibited or excessive under the Act. These funds may not be used to pay for exempt party activities. Instead, the party must use funds that are permissible under federal law (that is, funds that comply with federal source restrictions, amount limitations, and reporting requirements).
Campaign committees are not required to report exempt party activities. If exempt party activities are conducted by a federally registered party committee, the party committee must report them. As previously stated, exempt activities may trigger registration and reporting obligations for a local party organization.