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Presidential, Senate and House candidates

“Testing the waters”

Before deciding to run for federal office, an individual may first "test the waters," or explore the feasibility of becoming a candidate. For example, the individual may want to travel around the state to gauge support for a possible candidacy.

An individual who spends money only to test the waters (but not to campaign for office) does not have to register as a candidate. Nevertheless, funds received and spent to test the waters are subject to the Federal Election Campaign Act's limits and prohibitions. Furthermore, financial records of testing-the-waters activities should be retained because, if the individual later becomes a candidate, the funds received and spent to test the waters will be considered contributions and expenditures and must be reported in the candidate committee's first report. 

When candidates can receive a salary from their campaign committee

The candidate may receive a salary from his or her campaign committee only under the following conditions:

  • The salary must be paid by the principal campaign committee.
  • The salary must not exceed the lesser of the minimum annual salary for the federal office sought or what the candidate received as earned income in the previous year.
  • Individuals who elect to receive a salary from their campaign committees must provide income tax records and additional proof of earnings from relevant years upon request from the Commission.
  • Payments of salary from the committee must be made on a pro-rata basis (a candidate may not receive a whole year's salary if he or she is not a candidate for an entire 12-month period).
  • Incumbent federal officeholders may not receive a salary payment from campaign funds.
  • The first payment of salary shall be made no sooner than the filing deadline for access to the primary election ballot in the state in which the candidate is running for office.
  • Salary payments may continue until the date when the candidate is no longer considered a candidate for office or until the date of the general election or general election runoff. For special elections, payments may continue from the date that the special election is set until the date of the special election.

Candidates’ personal financial disclosures

Candidates for President or Vice President: Candidates for nomination or election to the office of President or Vice President are required to file an annual Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Public Financial Disclosure Report with the FEC within 30 days after becoming a candidate for nomination or election, or by May 15 of that calendar year, whichever is later, but at least 30 days before the election.

After a candidate has entered the presidential election race and has filed his or her initial public financial disclosure report, the candidate must file an annual OGE Public Financial Disclosure Report with the FEC on or before May 15 each successive year in which the individual continues to be a candidate.

A candidate for President or Vice President may request an extension of time up to 45 days for "good cause shown."  The request must be in writing, and must explain the "good cause." A candidate may request a second 45-day extension.

Members of the public may request a copy of presidential and vice-presidential disclosures reports. The OGE requires that all members of the public who request copies of these disclosure reports complete and submit by fax or email a Request Form to the FEC. You will then receive a copy of the requested disclosure report through the delivery method that you indicated on your form.

House and Senate candidates: Personal financial disclosures of House and Senate candidates, as well as ethics rules should be addressed by the appropriate offices on Capitol Hill.  The House Committee of Ethics provides rules on its website and can be reached at (202) 225-7103. The Senate Select Committee on Ethics provides additional information on its website and can be reached at (202) 224-2981.

Dealing with leftover funds in committee accounts when a candidate is no longer running for office

Campaign funds of candidates who are no longer seeking federal office are subject to the same expenditure rules as funds of a candidate who is still seeking federal office. 

Chapter 14 of the Campaign Guide for Congressional Candidates and Committees outlines the requirements for winding down a campaign.

Continuing to collect money for debts and loans when a candidate is no longer running for office

If a committee has "net debts outstanding" after an election is over, a campaign may accept contributions after the election to retire the debts provided that all the following requirements are met:

  • The contribution is designated for that election (since an undesignated contribution made after an election counts toward the limit for the candidate's next election, unless the campaign requests its redesignation).
  • The contribution does not exceed the contributor's limit for the designated election.
  • The campaign has "net debts outstanding" for the designated election on the day it receives the contribution.

Transferring campaign funds between the committees of a candidate seeking a different or more than one elected office

A committee of a federal candidate may not accept any transfers of funds or assets from a committee established by the same candidate for a nonfederal election.

Pages 59 to 61 of the Commission's Campaign Guide for Congressional Candidates and Committees outline the rules describing the different types of transfers that candidate committees may receive and make.