Contributions made by party committees
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.
Types of contributions
The contributions made by a political party 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.
Party committees within one state are generally subject to the state party’s limits on contributions received and made.
Limits on contributions
As a general rule, the limits on contributions to federal candidates and candidate committees a apply separately to each election in which a candidate participates—primary, runoff or general.
|Candidate committee||PAC† (SSF and nonconnected)||Party committee: state/district/local||Party committee: national||Additional national party committee accounts‡|
|Donor||Individual||$3,300* per election||$5,000 per year||$10,000 per year (combined)||$41,300* per year||$123,900* per account, per year|
|Candidate committee||$2,000 per election||$5,000 per year||Unlimited transfers||Unlimited transfers|
|PAC: multicandidate||$5,000 per election||$5,000 per year||$5,000 per year (combined)||$15,000 per year||$45,000 per account, per year|
|PAC: nonmulticandidate||$3,300* per election||$5,000 per year||$10,000 per year (combined)||$41,300* per year||$123,900* per account, per year|
|Party committee: state/district/local||$5,000 per election (combined)||$5,000 per year (combined)||Unlimited transfers||Unlimited transfers|
|Party committee: national||$5,000 per election**||$5,000 per year||Unlimited transfers||Unlimited transfers|
*Indexed for inflation in odd-numbered years.
†“PAC” here refers to a committee that makes contributions to other federal political committees. Independent-expenditure-only political committees (sometimes called “Super PACs”) may accept unlimited contributions, including from corporations and labor organizations.
‡The limits in this column apply to a national party committee’s accounts for: (i) the presidential nominating convention; (ii) election recounts and contests and other legal proceedings; and (iii) national party headquarters buildings. A party’s national committee, Senate campaign committee and House campaign committee are each considered separate national party committees with separate limits. Only a national party committee, not the parties' national congressional campaign committees, may have an account for the presidential nominating convention.
**Additionally, a national party committee and its Senatorial campaign committee may contribute up to $57,800 combined per campaign to each Senate candidate.
The amount of an in-kind contribution counts against the contribution limits in the same way as a gift of money.
The donor committee must 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 benefit reasonably expected to be derived by each candidate. 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.
For attributions to a candidate who is clearly identified in mass mailings that expressly advocate the election of that clearly identified federal candidate and refer to other candidates of the party only generically (for example, “Vote for John Doe and our great Freedom Party team”), see AO 2006-11.
Note that expenses for opinion polls are subject to the allocation rules at 11 CFR 106.4.
A party committee may receive earmarked contributions, or a contribution that a contributor directs (either orally or in writing) to a clearly identified candidate or authorized committee through an intermediary or conduit. An earmarked contribution does not count against the party committee’s limit for the candidate unless the party committee exercises direction or control over the contributor’s choice of candidate.
How candidate limits work
House and Senate candidates
As explained earlier, the limits on contributions to U.S. House and Senate candidates apply separately to each electionin 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.
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 (for example, Utah and Connecticut). Otherwise, there is no separate limit for a caucus or convention; it is considered part of the primary election.
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, for example, a candidate who loses the primary (or otherwise does not participate in the general election) is not entitled to contributions for the general election.
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.)
Support of presidential candidates
All elections held during a calendar year for the office of President (except a general election for that office) are considered to be one election. Thus, for example, a multicandidate committee may give only $5,000 to a presidential candidate’s primary campaign, regardless of the number of separate state presidential primaries in which the candidate participates.
No contributions to general election campaign of publicly funded candidate
Major party nominees who opt to receive public funding for the general election may not accept any campaign contributions and must limit campaign spending to the amount of the public funding grant. Thus, a Republican or Democratic party committee may not make any contributions to the general election campaign of its presidential and vice presidential nominees if those nominees accept public funding.
Contributions to compliance fund
Publicly funded nominees and individuals seeking a major party nomination may, however, accept contributions designated for a general election legal and accounting compliance fund (GELAC fund), a special account used to pay legal and accounting expenses incurred in complying with the campaign finance law. Contributions to a GELAC fund are subject to the Act’s prohibitions and the per-election contribution limits.
Contributions to nonmajor party nominees
General election contributions to the presidential nominee of a nonmajor party are subject to the per-election contribution limits.
A minor or new party candidate in the presidential general election may qualify for partial public funding if the party’s nominee in the previous presidential election received at least five percent of the popular vote or if the current nominee received at least five percent of the vote.
The nominee may accept contributions (subject to the limits and prohibitions) to pay for expenses in excess of the public funding grant. (The candidate is subject to the same spending limit as a major party nominee.)
A party committee may establish a recount fund to conduct recount activities in support of the party’s federal candidate. Although they are not considered contributions under the Act, any funds solicited, received, directed, transferred or spent in connection with a recount of an election are subject to the amount limitations, source prohibitions and reporting requirements of the Act. This means that the normal contribution limits, reporting requirements and source restrictions apply. Donations to the party committee’s recount fund, however, will not be aggregated with contributions from the same individuals to the party committee for the calendar year.
For more information and reporting instructions, see AOs 2006-24, 2009-04, 2010-14, and 2011-03.
Designating contributions to candidates
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.
An undesignated contribution automatically counts against the limits for the next scheduled election. Therefore, if a committee wishes to make a contribution for any election other than the next one, the contribution must be designated in writing.
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.
A candidate committee may accept a contribution only if the campaign has net debts outstanding with respect to the designated election on the day it receives the contribution.
Effect of date made
A candidate committee may 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 if it is made after the election for which it is designated.
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. 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 contributor relinquishes control of the funds. Therefore:
- 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).
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. 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.
In some cases, an authorized committee may "presumptively redesignate" an excessive primary contribution to the general election if the redesignation would not result in another excessive contribution. Note that authorized committees may presumptively redesignate a contribution from non-multicandidate committees, but not from multicandidate committees.
The committee may always request a refund from the candidate instead of providing the redesignation.
Reporting redesignations of contributions made
Use memo entries to show any redesignations of contributions made by the committee. If a contribution to a candidate is redesignated for a different election after the close of books, show the redesignation on the next report and indicate the report on which the original contribution was itemized.
Supporting nonfederal candidates
Contributions to nonfederal candidates are subject to relevant state and local law.