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Establishing eligibility to receive presidential primary matching fund payments

Partial public funding is available to presidential primary candidates in the form of federal matching payments. Only candidates seeking nomination by a political party to the office of President are eligible to receive primary matching funds. A presidential candidate must establish eligibility by showing broad-based public support. Primary election candidates seeking matching funds must also promise to comply with the provisions of the federal campaign finance law, including statutes and regulations governing presidential public financing.

The Commission ensures that candidates requesting public funds have satisfied the eligibility requirements. The Commission then certifies payments of federal funds, which are actually made by the U.S. Treasury. Before certifying matching payments to primary candidates, the Commission first reviews submitted contributions to make sure they meet the requirements for matchability.

Candidate agreements

To begin the process of seeking matching funds, presidential primary election candidates must submit a letter of agreements and certifications. This document is a contract with the government. In exchange for public funding, the candidates pledge to comply with the provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act. Presidential candidates also must agree to:

The candidate must submit a candidate agreement that meets the stated requirements before the Commission will review the candidate’s threshold submission to determine eligibility for matching funds.

Threshold submission to establish eligibility

Candidates seeking their party's nomination to the Presidency can qualify to receive matching funds by raising over $5,000 in each of 20 states (that is, over $100,000). Although an individual may contribute up to a specific limit to a primary candidate, only a maximum of $250 of each individual’s contribution is counted in determining whether a candidate has met the $5,000 threshold in each state. This means that a candidate must receive contributions from a minimum of 20 contributors in each of at least 20 states in order to establish eligibility for primary matching funds.

Candidates may present documentation to establish their eligibility for matching funds and submit matchable contributions during the year before the election is held. The threshold submission must be prepared in compliance with the Commission’s Guideline for Presentation in Good Order. This publication sets forth a uniform format for the presentation of submissions, together with specifying a quality of content standard that must be met after a matching fund request has been accepted for review.

Commission certification of eligibility and payments

The Commission will examine the submission and either determine that the candidate has satisfied the minimum contribution threshold requirements or make an initial determination that the candidate has failed to satisfy the matching payment threshold requirements. The Commission will notify the candidate of its initial determination. During the presidential election year, the Commission will generally complete its review and make its determination within 15 business days.

If the Commission, however, makes an initial determination that a candidate or the candidate's authorized committee(s) have knowingly and substantially exceeded the expenditure limitations for publicly funded primary candidates prior to that candidate's application for certification, the Commission may make an initial determination that the candidate is ineligible to receive matching funds.

Matchable contributions

Once the Commission determines that a candidate has met the eligibility criteria, the candidate may submit contributions from individuals for matching. The Commission's audit staff reviews these submissions to see if the requests meet the standards for matchability.

Only contributions from individuals may be matched. Matchable contributions include:

  • Checks and other negotiable written instruments;
  • Purchases of tickets to fundraisers;
  • Contributions collected through joint fundraising; and
  • Contributions collected through online fundraising.

Loans, cash contributions, goods or services, contributions from political committees and contributions which are illegal under the campaign finance law are not matchable.

Certification of entitlement

Once the Commission is satisfied that the submissions comply with the law, it certifies to the U.S. Treasury an amount due to be paid to the candidate. By law, the Commission must certify the payment amounts to which the candidate is entitled by law within ten calendar days after the Commission determines that he or she has established eligibility. The first payments are not made until January of the election year.

Additional submissions

From that point forward, candidates may submit additional matching fund requests and receive payments on a monthly basis. Even if a candidate is no longer actively campaigning in primary elections, he or she may continue to request matching funds to pay off campaign debts and to wind down the campaign until early in the year following the election. Additional submissions must be prepared in compliance with the Commission’s Guideline for Presentation in Good Order. The last date for first-time submissions will be the first Monday in March of the year following the election. Eligible candidates may receive public funds equaling up to half of the national spending limit for the primary campaign. Because candidates receive many nonmatchable contributions, such as those from political committees, they generally raise more money than they receive in matching funds.

Determination of ineligibility date

After the candidate's date of ineligibility, the candidate may only receive matching payments to the extent that the candidate’s committee has net outstanding campaign obligations. The date of ineligibility is the earliest of these three dates:

  • Date of inactive candidacy. The ineligibility date in this case is the day on which an individual is no longer actively conducting campaigns in more than one state in connection with seeking the presidential nomination, and thus ceases to be a candidate. This date shall be the earliest of:
    • The date the candidate publicly announces that he or she will not be actively conducting campaigns in more than one state; or
    • The date the candidate notifies the Commission by letter that he or she is not actively conducting campaigns in more than one state; or
    • The date which the Commission determines to be the date that the candidate is not actively seeking election in more than one state.
  • 30th day after receiving insufficient votes in two consecutive primaries. In this case, the ineligibility date is the 30th day following the date of the second consecutive primary election in which such individual receives less than 10 percent of the number of popular votes cast for all candidates of the same party for the same office in that primary election, if the candidate permitted or authorized his or her name to appear on the ballot, unless the candidate certifies to the Commission at least 25 business days prior to the primary that the individual will not be an active candidate in the primary involved.

    Although a candidate may certify to the Commission that the individual will not be an active candidate in an upcoming primary, the Commission may nevertheless make an initial determination that the candidate is an active candidate in the primary involved.
  • End of matching payment period. For a major party, the matching payment period ends on the day of the nomination of the party’s general election candidate. For a candidate seeking the nomination of a party which does not make its nomination at a national convention, the matching payment period ends on the earlier of the date the party nominates its presidential candidate, or the last day of the last national convention held by a major party in the calendar year.

Even if they no longer campaign actively in primary elections, candidates may continue to request public funds to pay off campaign debts until the first Monday of March of the year following an election. However, to qualify for matching funds, contributions must be deposited in the campaign account by December 31 of the election year. After a candidate's date of ineligibility, the Commission will review each additional submission and resubmission, and will certify to the Secretary of the Treasury, at least once a month on dates to be determined and published by the Commission, an amount to which the ineligible candidate is entitled.

Determination of active or inactive candidacy

In making a determination of inactive candidacy in order to determine eligibility, the Commission may consider, but is not limited to considering, the following factors:

  • The frequency and type of public appearances, speeches, and advertisements;
  • Campaign activity with respect to soliciting contributions or making expenditures for campaign purposes;
  • Continued employment of campaign personnel or the use of volunteers;
  • The release of committed delegates;
  • The candidate urges his or her delegates to support another candidate while not actually releasing committed delegates;
  • The candidate urges supporters to support another candidate.

Reestablishing eligibility

Depending on how the date of ineligibility was established, a candidate determined to be ineligible may reestablish eligibility for matching funds. A candidate whose eligibility is reestablished by the Commission may submit, for matching payment, contributions received during ineligibility.

Candidates found to be inactive

An inactive candidate may reestablish eligibility for matching payments by submitting to the Commission evidence of active campaigning in more than one state. The day the Commission determines to be the day the candidate becomes active again will be the date on which eligibility is reestablished.

Candidates who received insufficient votes in two consecutive primaries

A candidate who received insufficient votes in two consecutive primaries may reestablish eligibility if the candidate receives at least 20 percent of the total number of votes cast for candidates of the same party for the same office in a primary election held subsequent to the date of the election which rendered the candidate ineligible.

In the event of a shortfall

The U.S. Treasury Department normally will make payments due to primary candidates at least once per week, to the extent funds are available in the Matching Payment Account. The priorities established by the public financing statutes provide that a shortfall in the balance of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund will affect the availability of matching funds for primary candidates before it affects the financing of general election candidates or payments to the 10-Year Pediatric Research Initiative Fund, established in 2014 by the Gabriella Miller Kids First Act, which eliminated public funding for national party conventions and provided for the amounts set aside for them to be transferred to that fund instead. Thus, if a shortage of primary funds occurs in a particular week, U.S. Treasury revenue procedures set forth a formula for determining the amount each candidate will receive as partial payment and the amount that will be treated as certified for the next week.