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Coordinated party expenditures

A national party committee and state party committees may make special expenditures in connection with the general election campaigns of federal candidates. These coordinated party expenditures do not count against the contribution limits but are subject to a different set of limits, as explained. Additionally, coordinated party expenditures must be made with federally permissible funds only.

Committees authorized to make coordinated party expenditures

National committee

Only a national party committee has a coordinated party spending limit for the party’s presidential nominee. Other party committees may spend against this limit if they have the national committee’s prior written authorization (which must include the amount that may be spent). 

A national party committee also has a coordinated party expenditure limit for the party’s House and Senate candidates in the general election.

State committee

A state party committee has its own separate spending limit for each of the party’s House and Senate nominees in that state. 

Local committees

A district or local party committee or organization may make coordinated party expenditures only if authorized to do so by the national or state committee. District and local party units do not have any coordinated party spending authority of their own.

Assigning spending limits

A national or state party committee may assign all or part of its coordinated party spending authority to another party committee. The assigning committee must first authorize the spending in a written agreement and must specify the amount the designated committee may spend.

In this way, for example:

  • State, district and local party committees may spend against the national committee’s presidential spending limit; and
  • A district and local party committee may spend against the state committee’s limits for House and Senate candidates.

Authorizing committee’s responsibility

A state party committee must ensure the entire state party organization complies with the coordinated party expenditure limits, for example by monitoring and disclosing party expenditures made by local committees within the state party structure.

A state committee may use an FEC-recommended plan for this purpose or some other method approved in advance by the Commission.

National party committees should also monitor and disclose coordinated party expenditures made by party committees with assigned authority to spend within the national party committee spending limits.

Party expenditures vs. contributions

In making a coordinated party expenditure, the party committee pays for goods or services in coordination with a candidate but does not give the money directly to the candidate or candidate committee. For example, the payment of a campaign bill could be treated and reported as a coordinated party expenditure, while a check payable to the candidate committee could not—it would have to be treated as a contribution.

Similarities

Coordinated party expenditures are similar to in-kind contributions in that both represent payments for goods or services that benefit a federal candidate. A coordinated expenditure in connection with a general election campaign may count against either the coordinated party expenditure limit or the contribution limit for the candidate. It is up to the party committee to decide (assuming it has authority to make a coordinated party expenditure).

Differences

Coordinated party expenditures differ from contributions in the following ways:

  • Coordinated party expenditures may be made in connection with the general election only, whereas contributions may be made in connection with any election.
  • Coordinated party expenditures count against a separate limit, distinct from the contribution limits.
  • There is only one coordinated party expenditure limit per candidate (it applies only to the general election candidate), whereas there is a separate contribution limit for each election in which a candidate participates.
  • The coordinated party expenditure limits are much larger than the contribution limits.
  • Coordinated party expenditures are reported by the party committee only, while contributions are reported by both the party committee and the recipient candidate committee.

Benefits of party status

Party committees are entitled to spend more money in coordinated support of their candidates for federal office than other political groups.

Additionally, state party committees may spend limited—but substantial—amounts on coordinated party expenditures to support their U.S. House and Senate candidates in the general election. Coordinated party expenditures do not count against the contribution limits.

National party committees can make coordinated party expenditures on behalf of House, Senate and presidential nominees.

Allocation among candidates

A coordinated party expenditure made on behalf of more than one candidate must be allocated in proportion to the benefit each candidate is expected to receive. The amount allocated to a candidate counts against the coordinated spending limit (or contribution limit) for that candidate. Allocation procedures are the same as those used to allocate in-kind contributions

Pre-nomination expenditures

Party committees may make coordinated party expenditures in connection with the general election campaign before or after the party’s candidate has been nominated. All pre-nomination coordinated expenditures are subject to the coordinated party expenditure limitations, whether or not the candidate on whose behalf they are made receives the party’s nomination. 

Party coordinated communications

When a party committee pays for a communication that is coordinated with a candidate, the communication is either an in-kind contribution or a coordinated party expenditure. On the other hand, when a non-party committee pays for a communication that is coordinated with a political party committee, the communication is an in-kind contribution to the party committee.

Coordination defined

Coordinated means made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents

Determining coordination

There is a three-pronged test to determine whether a communication is a party coordinated communication. A communication must satisfy all three prongs of the test to be considered a party coordinated communication. Political party committees are subject to a coordination test similar to, but not the same as, that which would be applied to communications paid for by other persons.

The three prongs of the test consider:

  1. The source of payment (payment prong);
  2. The subject matter of the communication (content prong); and
  3. The interaction between the person paying for the communication and the candidate or political party committee (conduct prong).

Payment prong

A coordinated communication is paid for, in whole or in part, by a political party committee or its agent

Content prong

A communication that meets any one of these three standards meets the content prong:

  • A public communication that republishes, disseminates or distributes candidate campaign materials, unless the activity meets one of the exceptions at 11 CFR 109.23(b);
  • A public communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for federal office; or
  • A public communication that:
    • Refers to a clearly identified House or Senate candidate and is publicly distributed in the identified candidate’s jurisdiction within 90 days of the candidate’s primary or general election; or  
    • Refers to a clearly identified presidential or vice presidential candidate and is publicly distributed in a jurisdiction during the period starting 120 days before the primary election in that jurisdiction and ending on the date of the general election.

Conduct prong

The purpose of the conduct prong is to determine when interaction between the campaign and the person paying for the communication might constitute coordination. When the conduct prong, the content prong and the payment prong are all satisfied, then the communication is a party coordinated communication and results in an in-kind contribution or a coordinated party expenditure. A communication that satisfies any one of the conduct standards described satisfies the conduct prong.

1. Request or suggestion: This conduct standard has two parts, and satisfying either satisfies the standard. The first part is satisfied if the person creating, producing or distributing the communication does so at the request or suggestion of a candidate, authorized committee, or agent of any of these. A communication satisfies the second part of the “request or suggestion” conduct standard if the person paying for the communication suggests the creation, production or distribution of the communication to the candidate, authorized committee, or agent of any of these, and the candidate assents to the suggestion. 

2. Material involvement: This conduct standard is satisfied if a candidate, candidate committee, or an agent of any of these is “materially involved in decisions” regarding any of the following aspects of a public communication paid for by the party committee:

  • Content of the communication;
  • Intended audience;
  • Means or mode of the communication;
  • Specific media outlet used;
  • Timing or frequency of the communication; or
  • Size or prominence of a printed communication or duration of a communication by means of broadcast, cable or satellite. 

3. Substantial discussion: A communication meets this conduct standard if it is created, produced or distributed after one or more substantial discussions between the person paying for the communication, or the person’s agents, and the candidate clearly identified in the communication or that candidate’s committee, that candidate’s opponent or opponent’s committee, or an agent of these. A discussion is “substantial” if information about the plans, projects, activities or needs of the candidate that is material to the creation, production or distribution of the communication is conveyed to the person paying for the communication. 

4. Employment of common vendor: The conduct standard provides that the use of a common vendor in the creation, production or distribution of a communication satisfies the conduct standard if:

  • The person paying for the communication contracts with, or employs, a “commercial vendor” to create, produce or distribute the communication; and
  • The commercial vendor, including any officer, owner or employee of the vendor, has provided to the candidate or that candidate’s opponent at least one of nine specific services related to campaigning and campaign communications. Note that these services would have to have been rendered during the previous 120 days before the production of the communication; and
  • The commercial vendor uses or conveys information about the campaign plans, projects, activities or needs of the candidate or that candidate’s opponent, or information previously used by the commercial vendor in serving the candidate or that candidate’s opponent, to the person paying for the communication, and that information is material to the creation, production or distribution of the communication. 

5. Former employee/independent contractor:  This conduct standard applies to communications paid for by a person (or the employer of a person) who has previously been an employee or an independent contractor of a candidate’s campaign committee or that candidate’s opponent during the previous 120 days.

This standard requires that the former employee use or convey information about the campaign plans, projects, activities or needs of the candidate or that candidate’s opponent, or information used by the former employee in serving the candidate or that candidate’s opponent, to the person paying for the communication, and the information is material to the creation, production or distribution of the communication. Under the rules, a candidate with whom a party coordinated communication is coordinated would not receive or accept an in-kind contribution that resulted only from conduct described in the “Employment of common vendor” and ”Former employee/independent contractor” sections.

Special rules regarding dissemination, distribution or republication of campaign material

A communication that republishes, disseminates or distributes campaign material only satisfies the first three conduct standards on the basis of the candidate’s conduct—or that of his or her committee or agents—that occurs after the original preparation of the campaign materials that are disseminated, distributed or republished. The financing of the distribution or republication of campaign materials, while considered an in-kind contribution by the person making the expenditure, is not considered an expenditure (or an accepted contribution) by the candidate’s authorized committee unless the dissemination, distribution or republication of campaign materials is a party coordinated communication.

The following uses of campaign materials do not constitute a contribution to the candidate who prepared the materials:

  • The campaign material is disseminated, distributed or republished by the candidate or authorized committee of the candidate who prepared the material;
  • The campaign material is incorporated in a communication that advocates the defeat of the candidate who prepared it;
  • The campaign materials is disseminated, distributed or republished in a news story, commentary or editorial;
  • The campaign material used consists of a brief quote of materials that demonstrate a candidate’s position as part of a person’s expression of its own views; or
  • A national, state or local political party pays for the communication using coordinated expenditure authority.  

Agreement or formal collaboration

Neither agreement (defined as a mutual understanding on any part of the material aspect of the communication or its dissemination) nor formal collaboration (defined as planned or systematically organized work) is necessary for a communication to be a coordinated communication. 

Safe harbor provisions to the conduct prong

Safe harbor for responses to inquiries about legislative or policy issues

A candidate’s response to an inquiry about that candidate’s positions on legislative or policy issues, which does not include discussion of campaign plans, projects, activities or needs, will not satisfy any of the conduct standards.

Safe harbor for publicly available information

Using information that was obtained from a publicly available source to create, produce or distribute a communication would not, in and of itself, satisfy the conduct standard unless the public communication itself was a request or suggestion by the candidate’s committee. 

Safe harbor for the establishment and use of a firewall

The conduct standard for coordination is not met if a commercial vendor, former employee or political committee establishes a “firewall” to prohibit the flow of information between employees or consultants of the person paying for the communication and employees or consultants currently or previously providing services to the candidate who is clearly identified in the communication or an opponent of the candidate mentioned in the communication. The firewall must be described in a written policy that is distributed to all relevant employees, consultants and clients affected by the policy. 

Safe harbor for candidate endorsements and solicitations

A federal candidate may endorse or solicit funds for a candidate for federal or nonfederal office in a public communication without the communication being considered a coordinated communication with respect to the endorsing or soliciting candidate, so long as the communication does not promote or support the candidate making the endorsement or solicitation and does not attack or oppose his/her opponent. The safe harbor described in this paragraph also covers candidate solicitations for other political committees (including party committees) and candidate solicitations for certain tax-exempt organizations. 

In-kind contribution vs. party coordinated expenditure

Party coordinated communications must be treated by the party committee as either an in-kind contribution to the candidate or as a coordinated party expenditure to the general election campaign of the candidate. 

In addition to the rules regarding “party coordinated communications,” there are also rules governing communications that are paid for by an outside group or individual and are coordinated with a party committee. If these communications meet the three-pronged test for coordination, then the payment for the communication is an in-kind contribution to the party committee. In 2010, the Commission revised the content prong under 109.21 to cover public communications that are the functional equivalent of express advocacy. See the Campaign Guide for Congressional Candidates and Committees, Appendix D, for more information.

Formulas for coordinated party expenditure limits

Coordinated party expenditure limits are calculated as follows:

  • House candidate: $10,000 increased by the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) or, in states with only one representative, the same as the Senate limit.
  • Senate candidate: state voting age population x 2 cents, increased by the COLA; or $20,000 increased by the COLA, whichever is greater.
  • Presidential candidate: National voting age population x 2 cents, increased by the COLA.  

Every  year, the Commission publishes the dollar amounts of the coordinated party expenditure limits in the Record.

Reporting coordinated party expenditures

Schedule F

Itemize all coordinated party expenditures on Schedule F. Enter the Schedule F total on Line 25 of the Detailed Summary Page.

Expenditures by designated agents

A state party committee that has designated other party committees to make coordinated party expenditures must ensure that the designated party groups do not exceed the expenditure limits for the candidates supported. To this end, the FEC recommends the reporting method outlined, although a committee may use its own method of controlling and reporting coordinated party expenditures made by designated agents if the method receives advance approval from the FEC. 

Under the recommended method, each designated party committee itemizes its coordinated party expenditures on Schedule F.

The committee files Schedule F with its own report but also forwards a copy to the designating party committee.

The designating committee, in addition to filing its own Schedule F, attaches those forwarded by designated agents as memo entries. (The memo entry expenditures are not included in the Line 25 total on the Detailed Summary Page.)

Disclaimers for coordinated party expenditures

Disclaimers on coordinated party communications must identify the committee that actually paid for the communication, regardless of whether the committee is spending against its own limit or against an amount assigned to it by another committee. 

Wording

When a coordinated party communication is distributed before the date of the party’s nomination, the communication need only state who paid for it; no authorization statement is required. 

On a communication that is made as a coordinated party expenditure before a nominee is officially chosen, the disclaimer notice need only identify the committee that paid for the message. 

Example

“Paid for by the XYZ State Party Committee.”

However, a post-nomination coordinated party communication approved by a candidate or candidate’s committee must state also that it is authorized by the nominee or nominee’s committee. These post-nomination coordinated party expenditures must also comply with additional disclaimer requirements. Once a candidate has been nominated for the general election, the disclaimer notice must also state who authorized the communication and comply with the other applicable requirements listed.

Example

“Paid for by the XYZ State Party Committee and authorized by John Doe for Congress Committee.”

Visibility requirements

All disclaimers must be “clear and conspicuous” regardless of the medium in which the communication is transmitted. A disclaimer is not clear and conspicuous if it is difficult to read or hear, or if its placement is easily overlooked.

Specific requirements for radio and television communications

For radio and television communications authorized by a candidate, the candidate must deliver an audio statement identifying himself or herself, and stating that he or she has approved the communication. For example, the candidate could state “My name is John Doe, I’m running for Senate, and I approved this message.”

For a television communication, this disclaimer must be conveyed by either:

  • A full-screen view of the candidate making the statement, or
  • A “clearly identifiable photographic or similar image of the candidate” that appears during the candidate’s voice-over statement.

In the case of a televised ad not authorized by a candidate, the disclaimer must include a statement indicating the political committee or person paying for the ad, that is conveyed by a full screen view of a representative of the political committee or other person making the statement, or a voice-over by the representative.

Both authorized and unauthorized television communications must also contain a “clearly readable” written statement that appears at the end of the communication, with a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the disclaimer statement. The written statement must occupy at least four percent of the vertical picture height, and it must be shown for a period of four seconds.

Safe harbors for television communication disclaimers

A still picture of the candidate shall be considered “clearly identifiable” if it occupies at least 80 percent of the vertical screen height. Disclaimers that are printed in black text on a white background, as well as disclaimers that have at least the same degree of contrast with the background color as the degree of contrast between the background color and the color of the largest text used in the communication, will satisfy the color contrast requirement.

Specific requirements for printed communications

Printed materials must contain a disclaimer in a printed box that is set apart from the contents in the communication. The disclaimer print in this box must be of sufficient type size to be “clearly readable” by the recipient of the communication, and the print must have a reasonable degree of color contrast between the background and the printed statement.

The regulations contain a safe harbor that establishes a fixed, twelve-point type size as a sufficient size for disclaimer text in newspapers, magazines, flyers, signs and other printed communications that are no larger than the common poster size of 24” X 36.” Disclaimers for larger communications will be judged on a case-by-case basis.

The regulations additionally provide two safe harbor examples that would comply with the color-contrast requirement:

  • The disclaimer is printed in black text on a white background; or
  • The degree of contrast between the background color and the disclaimer text color is at least as great as the degree of contrast between the background color and the color of the largest text in the communication.

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