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Exempt party activities

State and local party committees may spend unlimited amounts for certain activities—called exempt party activities—that benefit federal candidates but that are exempt from the definitions of contribution and expenditure. (A national party committee is not entitled to these exemptions.)

Generally, party committees must report spending on exempt activities as operating expenditures. (Exempt party activities are not reportable by the committees of federal candidates benefiting from the activity.) In many instances, however, these activities will qualify as federal election activity (FEA), triggering specific payment and disclosure requirements. In cases where exempt party activities qualify as FEA, the party must finance it as FEA and not as exempt activity.

Disclaimers

Public communications authorized by a candidate, candidate committee, or a party committee that qualify as exempt party activities are required to carry a “paid for by” disclaimer. However, the disclaimer does not need to state whether the communication is authorized by a candidate, or any authorized committee or agent of any candidate.

In an exempt activity communication such as slate cards, sample ballots, or get-out-the-vote materials, the disclaimer notice must identify the committee that paid for the message, but need not state whether the communication is authorized by a candidate.

Example

“Paid for by the XYZ State Party 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.

Authorized by multiple candidates

If an advertisement lists several candidates, the disclaimer may state that the advertisement was authorized by the candidates identified in the ad or, if only some candidates have authorized it, by those candidates identified with an asterisk. 

Example

“Paid for by the XYZ State Party Committee and authorized by the candidates marked with an asterisk.”

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.

Multiple-paged document

A disclaimer need not appear on the front page or cover of a multiple-paged document so long as it appears somewhere within the communication.

Slate cards and sample ballots

A state or local party committee may prepare and distribute a slate card, sample ballot, palm card or other printed list naming candidates for any public office. The payments are not considered contributions or expenditures on behalf of any federal candidate listed, as long as the following conditions are met:

  • The list names at least three candidates running for election to any public office in the state in which the committee is organized.
  • The list is not distributed through broadcast stations, newspapers, magazines and similar types of public political advertising (for example billboards). Direct mail, however, is an acceptable method of distributing a slate card or sample ballot.
  • The content is limited to the identification of each candidate (pictures may be used), the office or position currently held, the office sought and party affiliation. Additional descriptions, designs, images and photographs must not provide supplemental biographical information, descriptions of candidates’ positions on the issues or statements of party philosophy. Certain voting information, however, may be given, such as time, place and instructions on voting a straight party ticket.
  • Costs allocable to federal candidates are paid with permissible funds.

Campaign materials

A state or local party committee may prepare and distribute campaign materials such as pins, bumper stickers, handbills, brochures, posters and yard signs. The payments are not considered contributions or expenditures if the following conditions are met:

  • The activity is conducted on behalf of the party’s nominees or presumptive nominees.
  • The materials are distributed by volunteers.
  • The materials are not distributed through public political advertising such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards or direct mail (i.e., mailings by a commercial vendor or from commercial lists).
  • The party committee does not use materials purchased by the national party committee or money transferred from the national committee for the purchase of such materials.
  • The party committee does not use funds designated for a particular federal candidate.
  • A payment from a nonfederal campaign to help pay for the materials does not exceed its allocated share of the expenses.
  • Costs allocable to federal candidates are paid with permissible funds.

Presidential nominees

State and local party committees may support the party’s presidential ticket through exempt party activities.

A state or local party committee may conduct a voter registration or get-out-the-vote drive on behalf of the party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees without the payments being considered contributions or expenditures as long as the following conditions are met:

  • The activity does not involve the use of public political advertising such as television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards or direct mail (mailings by a commercial vendor or from commercial lists).
  • Phone banks are operated by volunteers (although paid professionals may design the system, develop calling instructions and train supervisors).
  • The party committee does not use funds transferred by the national party committee for such voter drive activities.
  • Costs allocable to federal candidates are paid with permissible funds.
  • Any reference to a U.S. House or Senate candidate must be incidental to the overall activity; otherwise, the cost allocable to the House or Senate candidate is an in-kind contribution or coordinated party expenditure on behalf of that candidate.
  • The party committee does not use funds designated for a particular federal candidate.

Paying for exempt party activities

State, district and local party committees may allocate from their federal and nonfederal accounts expenses for exempt party activities that are conducted in conjunction with nonfederal activity and are not federal election activity from their federal and nonfederal accounts. Note: Any of these activities that qualify as federal election activity must be paid for under unique rules. See that section for more information.

Allocation Ratio (H1)

A state or local party committee uses Schedule H1 to state its fixed percentage allocation ratio at the beginning of each calendar year.

Calculation:

Under this allocation ratio, the minimum percentage of federal funds depends upon which federal offices appear on the ballot during the relevant even-numbered election year (and in the preceding 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.

Nonfederal transfers (H3)

Each reporting period, the committee discloses transfers from the nonfederal account to the federal (or allocation) account to pay the allocated nonfederal portion of administrative, voter drive and exempt activity costs. As previously noted, transfers must be made within a 70-day window (no more than 10 days before or 60 days after an allocated payment is made).

The total amount of transfers itemized on Schedule H3 is entered on Line 18(a) of the Detailed Summary Page.

Payments (H4)

Each reporting period, the committee uses Schedule H4 to itemize all payments for administrative, voter drive and exempt activity costs, showing the allocated federal and nonfederal shares.

The federal and nonfederal payment totals that appear on Schedule H4 are entered on Lines 21a(i) and (ii) of the Form 3X Detailed Summary Page.

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