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Who can and can't contribute to the SSF

Who can contribute to the SSF

Individuals

An individual may make contributions to the separate segregated fund (SSF), subject to the limit of $5,000 per calendar year.

An SSF or connected organization may solicit only a restricted class of persons associated with the connected organization. The general public may not be solicited. See Fundraising for the SSF.

An SSF may accept an unsolicited contribution that is otherwise lawful, but the committee may not inform individuals outside the restricted class that unsolicited contributions are acceptable.

Minors

An individual who is under 18 years old may make contributions, 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contributed are owned or controlled by the minor, proceeds from a trust for which he or she is a beneficiary or funds withdrawn by the minor from a financial account opened and maintained in his or her name; and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.

Partnerships and limited liability companies (LLCs)

Partnerships are permitted to make contributions according to special rules. Likewise, if an LLC is considered a partnership for tax purposes, it is subject to the contribution limits for partnerships.

Who can’t contribute to the SSF

Corporations and labor organizations

Corporations and labor organizations may not use their general treasury funds to make contributions to their SSFs or candidates and they are generally prohibited from using their treasury funds to make contributions to other types of political committees. Officers of corporations and labor organizations are prohibited from consenting to the making of a prohibited corporate or labor contribution.

In addition, national banks and federally chartered corporations may not make contributions in connection with any U.S. election—federal, state or local.

Commingling of funds

Corporations and labor organizations may not commingle their treasury funds with the funds of their SSFs.

Any corporate or labor funds intended to pay the administrative expenses of an SSF must be paid directly to vendors or deposited in a special administrative account used only to pay the SSF’s establishment, solicitation and administration costs.

As an exception to the commingling prohibition, when a connected organization functions as a collecting agent  for its SSF (e.g., when collecting contributions via payroll deduction), it may temporarily deposit contributions in a general account before transmitting them to the SSF.

Reimbursements of contributions

A connected organization may not reimburse individuals who make contributions to an SSF or another political committee.

Federal government contractors

Federal government contractors are prohibited from making contributions or expenditures in connection with a federal election. The prohibition applies to:

  • A partnership with a government contract;
  • An individual under contract with the federal government; and
  • Sole proprietors with government contracts.

The prohibition begins when the request for proposals are sent out or the negotiations have begun (whichever is earlier) and ends when performance under a contract is completed or negotiations have terminated (whichever is later). Employees of federal contractors and spouses of individuals who are federal contractors are not affected by this provision and may make otherwise lawful contributions from their personal funds.

Foreign nationals

Federal political committees and candidates, including an SSF, may not solicit or accept a contribution from a foreign national. Federal law prohibits contributions, donations, expenditures and disbursements solicited, directed, received or made directly or indirectly by or from foreign nationals in connection with any election: federal, state or local. Furthermore, it is a violation of federal law to knowingly provide assistance to foreign nationals in the making of contributions, donations, expenditures, independent expenditures and disbursements in connection with federal and nonfederal elections. This prohibition includes, but is not limited to, acting as a conduit or intermediary for foreign national contributions and donations.

Definition of foreign national

A foreign national is:

  • An individual who is (1) not a citizen of the United States and (2) not lawfully admitted for permanent residence (as defined in 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(20)); or 
  • A foreign principal, as defined in 22 U.S.C. § 611(b). Section 611(b) defines a foreign principal as an entity organized under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign country. The statute specifically includes foreign governments, political parties, partnerships, associations and corporations.

An immigrant to the United States is eligible to make a contribution if the individual has a “green card” indicating that he or she has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

Domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations

In advisory opinions, the Commission has said that a United States corporation that is a subsidiary of a foreign corporation may make contributions to nonfederal candidates (to the extent permitted by state law) and may establish an SSF to make contributions to federal candidates when:

  • The foreign parent does not finance these activities (such as the payment of the SSF's establishment, administration or fundraising costs) through the subsidiary; and
  • No foreign national (including the foreign parent) participates in the operations or administration of the committee (such as by appointing officers) or in any decisions to make contributions or expenditures in connection with any federal or nonfederal election.

Determining nationality of contributor

A committee receiving a contribution of foreign currency or from a foreign address should take the following minimally intrusive steps to ensure that the contributions it received did not come from foreign nationals:

  • Ensure that public political ads and solicitations directed to audiences outside the U.S. contain a summary of the foreign national prohibition.
  • Make further inquiry into the nationality of the contributor if the committee receives a contribution postmarked from any non U.S. territory.
  • Make further inquiry into the nationality of the contributor if the committee receives a contribution indicating that either the bank or the account owner has a foreign address.

In all of these instances, if the contribution is submitted along with credible evidence (e.g., a copy of a valid U.S. passport) that the contributor is a U.S. citizen, a U.S. national or a permanent resident alien, no further inquiry need be made. However, if the committee has actual knowledge that the contributor is a foreign national, it may not rely on these documents as a defense.

The use of any surname on a contribution check (or similar instrument) would not, by itself, give any reason to inquire as to the person’s nationality.

Contributions in the name of another

A contribution made by one person in the name of another is prohibited. Similarly, a corporation is prohibited from using bonuses or other means of reimbursing employees for their contributions.

A connected organization may not pay additional compensation to its employees to enable them to make contributions to the SSF, federal candidates, and other political committees.

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