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Definition of federal election activity (FEA)

Federal election activity (FEA) is a specifically defined term of art for activity by state, district or local party committees and organizations (whether registered as political committees with the Commission or not) that triggers special payment and reporting requirements. As a general rule, FEA must be paid for with federal funds. However, under certain circumstances Levin funds may be used to pay a portion of some types of FEA. No nonfederal funds may be used for FEA. A state, district or local party committee that has had any federal receipts or disbursements for FEA  - or any reportable Levin receipts and disbursements - must file monthly.

Types of FEA

There are four types of FEA:

  • Type 1: Voter registration activity during the period 120 days before a regularly scheduled federal election including the election day itself;
  • Type 2: Voter identification, get-out-the-vote and generic campaign activity conducted in connection with an election in which a candidate for federal office appears on the ballot;
  • Type 3: A public communication that refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office and that promotes, attacks, supports or opposes (PASOs) a candidate for that office. The communication need not expressly advocate the election or defeat of the federal candidate to qualify as FEA; and
  • Type 4: Services provided during any given calendar month by an employee of a state, district or local party committee who spends more than 25 percent of his or her compensated time during that month on activities in connection with a federal election, including FEA.

Allocable federal election activity

State, district and local party committees may allocate between their federal and their Levin funds expenses arising from two types of FEA:

  • Type 1: Voter registration activity between 120 days before a regularly scheduled federal election and the date of the election; and
  • Type 2: Voter identification, get-out-the-vote and generic campaign activity conducted in connection with an election in which a federal candidate appears on the ballot.

However, no Levin funds may be used to pay for:

  • Any FEA that refers to a clearly identified candidate; or
  • Any broadcast, cable or satellite communication unless it refers solely to a clearly identified candidate for state or local office.

Type 1 FEA: Voter registration activity

Time Period: 120 days before a regularly scheduled federal election.

  • In connection with an election in which a federal candidate appears on the ballot” means the period beginning on the filing deadline for primary election ballot access for federal candidates under state law – or January 1st of the election year for states that do not hold primaries – and ending on the day of the general election (or of the general election runoff if one is held). For special elections, it means the period beginning on the day that the date is set for the special election and ending on the day of that election.
  • The salaries, wages and fringe benefits of employees who spend 25 percent or less of their compensated time in a given month on FEA or on activities in connection with a federal election may be paid for with federal funds or allocated as administrative costs. Employees who spend no time on FEA or on activities in connection with a federal election may be paid with nonfederal funds. 

In regard to federal election activity, voter registration activity means:

  • Encouraging or urging potential voters to register to vote, whether by mail (including direct mail), email, in person, by telephone (including pre-recorded telephone calls, phone banks and messaging such as SMS and MMS) or by any other means;
  • Preparing and distributing information about registration and voting;
  • Distributing voter registration forms or instructions to potential voters;
  • Answering questions about how to complete or file a voter registration form, or assisting potential voters in completing or filing such forms;
  • Submitting or delivering a completed voter registration form on behalf of a potential voter;
  • Offering or arranging to transport, or actually transporting, potential voters to a board of elections or county clerk’s office for them to fill out voter registration forms; or
  • Any other activity that assists potential voters to register to vote. 

Exception: Brief, incidental exhortations

Brief exhortations to register to vote (regardless of the forum or medium) will not be considered voter registration activity as long as the exhortation is incidental to a communication, activity or event. Exhortations must be both brief and incidental to qualify for the exception.

Examples

  • A phone call for a state party committee fundraiser that provides recipients with information about the event, solicits donations and concludes by reminding the listener, “Don’t forget to register to vote,” would qualify for the exception because the exhortation is brief and incidental.
  • An exhortation to register to vote that occupies a large amount of space on a mailer would not qualify for the exception because it would not be brief.
  • A communication stating only “Register to Vote by October 1st!” and containing no other text would not qualify for the exception because it would not be incidental.

Note: The exception will not inoculate speeches or events that otherwise would meet the definition of voter registration activity.

Type 2 FEA: Voter ID, GOTV, generic campaign activity

Time Period: “In connection with an election in which a federal candidate is on the ballot.”

Voter identification

With regard to federal election activity, this means acquiring information about potential voters, including, but not limited to, obtaining voter lists and creating or enhancing voter lists by verifying or adding information about the voters’ likelihood of voting in an upcoming election or voting for specific candidates. A purchase of a voter list before the FEA period begins may be made with an allocated mix of federal and nonfederal funds. Also, any subsequent use of the voter list during the FEA period will not be considered a separate FEA cost unless the political party is also “enhancing” the voter list by verifying or adding information.

For a regularly scheduled election, the time period begins on the day of the earliest federal office filing deadline for primary election ballot access under state law (or on January 1st in even years for states that do not hold primaries). The time period ends on the day of the general election (or on the day of a general election runoff, if applicable). The time period in connection with a special election begins on the day that the date is set for a special election and ends on the day of that election.

Get-out-the-vote

In regard to federal election activity, GOTV activity means:

  • Encouraging or urging potential voters to vote, whether by mail (including direct mail), email, in person, by telephone (including pre-recorded telephone calls, phone banks and messaging such as SMS and MMS), or by any other means;
  • Informing potential voters, whether by mail (including direct mail), email, in person, by telephone (including pre-recorded telephone calls, phone banks and messaging such as SMS and MMS), or by any other means, about the hours or location of polling places, or about early voting or voting by absentee ballot;
  • Offering or arranging to transport, or actually transporting, voters to the polls; or
  • Any other activity that assists potential voters in voting.

Exception: Brief, incidental exhortations

Brief exhortations to vote (regardless of the forum or medium) will not be considered GOTV so long as the exhortation is incidental to a communication, activity or event. Exhortations must be both brief and incidental to qualify for this exception.

Examples

  • A mailer praising the public service record of a mayoral candidate and/or discussing the candidate’s platform that concludes by reminding the recipients to “Vote for [mayoral candidate] in November!” would qualify for the exception because the exhortation is both brief and incidental.
  • A message in a mailer that stated only “Vote on Election Day!” with no other text would not be incidental and would not qualify for the exception.

Note: The exception will not inoculate speeches or events that otherwise would meet the definition of GOTV.

Generic campaign activity

Generic campaign activity is a public communication that promotes or opposes a political party and does not promote or oppose a clearly identified federal candidate or a nonfederal candidate.

Reporting allocated FEA

Required forms

  • Schedule H1 - Allocation Ratio for Administrative, Generic Voter Drive and Exempt Activity Costs, Federal Election Activity and public communications that refer to any political party (but not a candidate);
  • Schedule H5 – Transfers of Levin Funds Received for Allocated Federal Election Activity; and
  • Schedule H6 – Disbursements of Federal and Levin Funds for Allocated Federal Election Activity.

Allocation ratio (H1)

When allocating FEA, committees must use a fixed minimum percentage of federal funds. The minimum percentage of federal funds depends upon which federal offices appear on the ballot during the election year:

  • If both a presidential candidate and a Senate candidate appear on the ballot, then at least 36 percent of the expenses must be allocated to the federal account;
  • If a presidential candidate, but not a Senate candidate, appears on the ballot, then at least 28 percent of the expenses must be allocated to the federal account;
  • If a Senate candidate, but not a presidential candidate, appears on the ballot, then at least 21 percent of the expenses must be allocated to the federal account; and
  • If neither a presidential candidate nor a Senate candidate appears on the ballot, then at least 15 percent of the expenses must be allocated to the federal account. A state, district or local party committee uses Schedule H1 to determine its allocation ratio at the beginning of each calendar year.

Levin transfers (H5)

Each reporting period, the committee discloses transfers from the Levin account to the federal (or allocation) account to pay the allocated portion of allocable federal election activity costs. Transfers must be made within a 70-day window (no more than 10 days before or 60 days after an allocated payment is made).

Levin fund transfers are itemized on Schedule L-B.

The total amount of transfers itemized on Schedule H5 is entered on Line 18(b) of the Detailed Summary Page.

Schedule L-B – Levin fund disbursements

Itemize any disbursement of $200 or more on Schedule L-B. Committees must categorize their transfers on Line 4 by what type of federal election activity was allocated – voter registration, voter identification, get out the vote activity or generic campaign activity. Other disbursements must be itemized when they aggregate $200 or more per entity in the calendar year. Use separate Schedules for each category of disbursement and note the Line number in the upper-right corner.

Payments (H6)

Each reporting period, the committee uses Schedule H6 to itemize all payments for allocable federal election activity costs, showing the allocated federal and Levin shares.

The federal and Levin payment totals that appear on Schedule H6 are entered on Line 30(a) of the Form 3X Detailed Summary Page (federal share on Line 30(a)(i) and Levin share on Line 30(a)(ii)).

Unallocated federal election activity

Other types of FEA must be paid for entirely with federal funds, including:

Type 3 FEA: Public communication that PASOs a federal candidate

Time period: Any time during the calendar year.

Type 3 FEA covers public communications that refer to a clearly identified candidate for federal office, regardless of whether a candidate for state or local election is also mentioned or identified, and that promote, support, attack or oppose (PASO) any candidate for federal office. Such public communications are FEA whether or not the communication expressly advocates a vote for or against a federal candidate. However, a public communication that merely identifies an individual who is a federal candidate does not, in itself, PASO that candidate.

Type 4 FEA: Employee services

Time period: Any time during the calendar year.

Services provided during any month by an employee of a state, district or local committee of a political party who spends more than 25 percent of that individual’s compensated time during that month on activities in connection with a federal election.

Reporting unallocated federal election activity

Report disbursements for unallocated FEA (FEA paid for entirely with federal funds) on Schedule B for Line 30(b) of the Detailed Summary Page. This includes payments for public communications that promote, attack, support or oppose any candidate for federal office. Any Type 1 or Type 2 FEA that refers to a clearly identified federal candidate must be paid with all federal funds.