Who can and can't contribute
This page discusses the individuals, groups, political committees and other entities that can make contributions to federal candidates and those that are prohibited by federal law from making such contributions.
Who can contribute
An individual may make contributions to candidates and their authorized committees, subject to limitations.
An individual who is under 18 years old may make contributions to candidates and political committees, subject to limitations, if:
- The decision to contribute is made knowingly and voluntarily by the minor;
- The funds, goods or services contributed are owned or controlled by the minor, proceeds from a trust for which he or she is a beneficiary or funds withdrawn by the minor from a financial account opened and maintained in his or her name; and
- The contribution is not made using funds given to the minor as a gift for the purpose of making the contribution, and is not in any way controlled by another individual.
A political committee may:
- Accept contributions from an individual’s estate made through a testamentary trust, subject to the same limitations and prohibitions that were applicable to the decedent during the decedent’s lifetime.
- Only accept contributions from trusts in which neither the committee nor any officer, director, employee, member, agent, or affiliated organization of the political committee serves as a trustee or exercises any control over any undistributed trust corpus or interest amount.
Note that the committee must disclose the name of the both the trust and the name of the decedent on its report.
Contributions may be made from a living (inter vivos) trust as long as the trust’s beneficial owner has control over the use of the trust funds. The contribution should be reported as a contribution from the beneficial owner (as signor on the contribution), rather than from the trust.
Special requirements apply to contributions from trusts to presidential campaigns that are eligible for federal matching payments.
Limited liability companies (LLCs)
Corporation vs. partnership
For purposes of contribution limitations and prohibitions, a limited liability company (LLC) is treated as either a corporation or a partnership.
An LLC is treated as a corporation if:
- It has chosen to file, under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules, as a corporation; or
- It has publicly traded shares.
An LLC is treated as a partnership if:
- It has chosen to file, under IRS rules, as a partnership; or
- It has made no choice, under IRS rules, as to whether it is a corporation or a partnership.
If an LLC is treated as a corporation, it is prohibited from making contributions to candidate committees, but it can establish an SSF. It may also give money to independent expenditure-only PACs. If it is considered a partnership, it is subject to the contribution limits for partnerships.
Partnerships are permitted to make contributions according to special rules.
Contributions received by a candidate's authorized committees from a partnership may not exceed the limitations. In addition, a contribution from a partnership also counts proportionately against each participating partner’s own limit with respect to the same candidate.
In past advisory opinions and enforcement cases, the Commission has determined that an unincorporated tribal entity can be considered a "person" under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and thus subject to the various contribution prohibitions and limitations.
Political party committees
Party committees may support federal candidates in a variety of ways, including making contributions.
Political action committees
Separate segregated funds
SSFs may make contributions to candidates and to their authorized committees.
Generally, nonconnected PACs may make contributions to influence federal elections, subject to the Act’s limitations and reporting requirements.
As nonconnected committees that solicit and accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, labor organizations and other political committees, Super PACs and Hybrid PACs do not make contributions to candidates.
Other federal campaigns
A candidate’s authorized committees may accept a contribution of up to $2,000 per election from the authorized committee of another federal candidate.
An authorized committee, however, can be affiliated only with another authorized committee of the same candidate. Note that, by definition, an unauthorized committee sponsored by an officeholder (that is, a “leadership PAC”) is not considered to be affiliated with any authorized committees sponsored by the same individual.
State PACs, unregistered local party organizations and nonfederal campaign committees
State PACs, unregistered local party organizations and nonfederal campaign committees (nonfederal committees) may, under certain circumstances, contribute to federal candidates, but:
- The funds that comprise the contribution must come from permissible sources under the Act; and
- Making the contribution may require the nonfederal committee to register with the FEC as a federal political committee, subject to federal laws and regulations.
When candidates use or loan their personal funds for campaign purposes, they are making contributions to their campaigns. Unlike other contributions, these candidate contributions are not subject to any limits.
Who can't contribute
Campaigns are prohibited from accepting contributions from certain types of organizations and individuals. These prohibited sources are:
- Corporations, including nonprofit corporations (although funds from a corporate separate segregated fund are permissible)
- Labor organizations (although funds from a separate segregated fund are permissible)
- Federal government contractors
- Foreign nationals
- Contributions in the name of another
Corporations, labor organizations, national banks
Campaigns may not accept contributions from the treasury funds of corporations, labor organizations or national banks. National banks and federally chartered corporations may not make contributions in connection with any election–federal, state or local. This prohibition applies to any incorporated organization, including a nonstock corporation, a trade association, an incorporated membership organization and an incorporated cooperative.
However, a political committee that has incorporated for liability purposes only is not considered a prohibited source.
The owner of an incorporated “mom and pop” grocery store is not permitted to use a business account to make contributions. Instead, the owner would have to use a personal account.
A campaign may, however, accept contributions from PACs established by corporations, labor organizations, incorporated membership organizations, trade associations and national banks. Moreover, the Act permits corporations, labor organizations, incorporated membership organizations, trade associations and national banks to use their treasury funds for certain election-related activities that benefit candidates.
Although law firms, doctors’ practices and similar businesses are often organized as partnerships, some of these businesses may instead be professional corporations. Unlike a partnership, a professional corporation is prohibited from making any contributions because contributions from corporations are unlawful.
Partnerships or LLCs with corporate partners or members
Because contributions from corporations are prohibited, a partnership or LLC with corporate partners or members may not attribute any portion of a contribution to the corporate partners or members.
A partnership or LLC composed solely of corporate partners or members may not make any contributions.
Partnerships or LLCs with foreign national members
Similarly, because contributions from foreign nationals are prohibited, a partnership or LLC may not attribute any portion of a contribution to a partner who is a foreign national.
Candidate employed by prohibited source
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, or in consideration of work not performed, is generally considered a contribution from the employer. If the employer is a corporation, federal government contractor, or another prohibited source, the excess payment would result in a prohibited contribution under the regulations applicable to that employer.
Other charitable organizations
Incorporated charitable organizations—like other corporations—are prohibited from making contributions in connection with federal elections. Unlike most other corporations, charities face additional restrictions on political activity under provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.
Federal government contractors
Campaigns may not accept or solicit contributions from federal government contractors.
Federal law prohibits contributions, donations, expenditures(including independent expenditures) and disbursements solicited, directed, received or made directly or indirectly by or from foreign nationals in connection with any federal, state or local election.
Contributions in the name of another
A contribution made by one person in the name of another is prohibited. For example, an individual who has already contributed up to the limit to the campaign may not give money to another person to make a contribution to the same candidate. Similarly, a corporation is prohibited from using bonuses or other methods of reimbursing employees for their contributions.
Video: Contributions 2021-2022