When candidates use their personal funds for campaign purposes, they are making contributions to their campaigns. Candidate contributions to their own campaigns are not subject to any limits. They must, however, be reported.
Contributions from members of the candidate’s family are subject to the same limits that apply to any other individual. For example, a candidate's parent or spouse may not contribute more than the individual contribution limit per election to the candidate.
Definition of a candidate's "personal funds"
The personal funds of a candidate include:
- Assets which the candidate has a legal right of access to or control over, and which he or she has legal title to or an equitable interest in, at the time of candidacy;
- Income from employment;
- Dividends and interest from, and proceeds from sale or liquidation of, stocks and other investments;
- Income from trusts, if established before the election cycle;
- Income from trusts established by bequests (even after candidacy);
- Bequests to the candidate;
- Personal gifts that had been customarily received by the candidate prior to the beginning of the election cycle; and
- Proceeds from lotteries and similar games of chance.
Assets jointly held with spouse
A candidate may also use, as personal funds, his or her portion of assets owned jointly with a spouse (for example, a checking account or jointly owned stock). If the candidate’s financial interest in an asset is not specified, then the candidate’s share is deemed to be half the value.
Some banks may require a spouse to cosign a loan obtained by the candidate using jointly held assets as collateral. While an endorsement or guarantee of a loan normally constitutes a contribution, in this instance the spouse is not considered a contributor as long as the candidate’s share in the collateral equals or exceeds the amount of the loan.
A candidate obtains a $5,000 bank loan for his campaign using, as collateral, property valued at $20,000 held jointly (in equal shares) with his spouse. Both co-sign the loan. Because the candidate’s interest in the property is $10,000, which exceeds the amount of the loan, his spouse has not made a contribution by co-signing it.
Unearned income and fringe benefits
A candidate’s salary or wages earned from bona fide employment are considered his or her personal funds. However, compensation paid to a candidate in excess of actual hours worked is generally considered a contribution from the employer. Moreover, under FEC regulations barring personal use of campaign funds, a third party's payment of a candidate’s expenses is considered a contribution, unless the payment would have been made irrespective of the candidacy.
To be paid "irrespective of the candidacy," and thus not considered a contribution, compensation must:
- Result from bona fide employment that is genuinely independent of the candidacy;
- Be exclusively made in consideration for services provided by the employee; and
- Not exceed the amount paid to any other similarly qualified person for the same work over the same period of time.
Note that when a candidate is on leave without pay, the continued payment of fringe benefits (such as health insurance and retirement) may also result in contributions from the employer to the campaign. (The Commission has made an exception to this rule for employers who had pre-existing policies providing for a limited extension of benefits for individuals who take unpaid leave.)
Reporting contributions from candidate’s personal funds
Contributions made from the candidate's personal funds must be reported. The reporting varies according to whether the personal funds of the candidate were loaned or contributed directly to the candidate’s authorized committee, or whether the funds were spent by the candidate out-of-pocket.
What are not considered personal funds
Personal gifts and loans
If any person, including a relative or friend of the candidate, gives or loans the candidate money "for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office," the funds are not considered personal funds of the candidate even if they are given to the candidate directly. Instead, the gift or loan is considered a contribution from the donor to the campaign, subject to the per-election limit and reportable by the campaign.
Bank loans used in connection with campaign
Bank loans are not considered contributions from the bank if they comply with FEC regulations on bank loans.
When a candidate obtains a bank loan for use in connection with their campaign, the loan is considered to be from the bank and not from the candidate’s personal funds. The candidate is acting as the agent of the campaign.