This article examines issues that candidates and their ongoing committees need to pay special attention to as they begin to plan for their next election.
Registration by candidates and their committees Individuals running for federal office must designate a principal campaign committee within 15 days of becoming a "candidate." 11 CFR 101.1(a) and 102.12(a). This requirement applies to all candidates, including incumbents who qualify as candidates for a future election (see below).
An individual becomes a "candidate" when the individual or persons authorized to conduct campaign activity on his or her behalf receive over $5,000 in contributions or make over $5,000 in expenditures. 11 CFR 100.3(a)(1) and (2). Unauthorized campaign activity on behalf of a candidate may also trigger candidate status unless the individual disavows the activity by writing a letter to the FEC within 30 days after being notified by the agency that unauthorized activity has exceeded $5,000. 11 CFR 100.3(a)(3) and 102.13(a)(2).
Designation of committee. Candidates must designate a principal campaign committee by filing a Statement of Candidacy on FEC Form 2 (or by filing a letter containing the same information) within 15 days after becoming a "candidate." 11 CFR 101.1(a).
Registration by principal campaign committee. Within 10 days after it has been designated by the candidate, the principal campaign committee or other authorized committee must register by filing a Statement of Organization on FEC Form 1. 11 CFR 102.1(a).
Ballot access. Registration with the FEC does not mean that the individual has qualified to have his or her name placed on the ballot. State law governs ballot access requirements for federal offices; for information, consult the appropriate state authority. For a list of state election offices consult the FEC’s Combined Federal/State Disclosure and Election Directory at http://www.fec.gov/pubrec/cfsdd/cfsdd.shtml.
Candidates who ran in previous elections
A candidate who ran in a previous election must file a new FEC Form 2 (Statement of Candidacy) within 15 days after qualifying as a "candidate" (as defined above) for an upcoming election cycle or future election. The candidate may either designate a new principal campaign committee or redesignate his or her previous principal campaign committee (if it has not terminated). A newly designated committee will receive a new FEC identification number, while a redesignated committee retains its original number. If the candidate names a new committee, that committee must file its FEC Form 1 (Statement of Organization) with the Commission within 10 days of being designated. 102.2(a) (1). If the candidate redesignates an existing committee, the committee need only amend its Statement of Organization if there has been any change in the information on it (e.g., a change in the committee’s name, address or treasurer). The committee must file the amendment within 10 days of the change in information, either by using FEC Form 1 or by writing a letter noting the changes. 11 CFR 102.2(a)(2).
Where to file forms 1 and 2
U.S. House candidates and their principal campaign committees file their statements and amendments directly with the FEC; U.S. Senate candidates and their principal campaign committees file with the Secretary of the Senate. 11 CFR Part 105. Principal campaign committees of House and Senate candidates must file Forms 1 and 2 with the state or territory in which the office is sought, unless the state or territory has qualified for the Commission's state filing waiver program. For a list of qualifying states and territories, visit http://transition.fec.gov/pages/statefiling.shtml. As of 2009, all 50 U.S. States, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands had qualified for the state filing waiver program.
Other authorized committees
In addition to designating a principal campaign committee, a candidate may designate other authorized committees to receive contributions and make expenditures on his or her behalf, using the following steps:
- The candidate designates the authorized committee by filing a statement (either an FEC Form 2 or a letter) with the principal campaign committee. 11 CFR 101.1(b) and 102.13(a)(1).
- Within 10 days after being designated by the candidate, the authorized committee must file a registration statement (FEC Form 1) with the candidate's principal campaign committee. 11 CFR 102.1(b). (The name of the committee must include the candidate's name. 11 CFR 102.14(a).)
- The principal campaign committee, in turn, files both forms with the appropriate federal and state offices, as explained above.
Fundraising and contribution limits
Contribution limits. The contribution limits for the 2009-2010 election cycle are available at http://transition.fec.gov/info/contriblimits0910.pdf.
Candidate's personal funds and contributions from family members. When candidates use their personal funds for campaign purposes, they are making contributions to their campaigns. Unlike other contributions, these contributions are not subject to any limits, but must be reported. 11 CFR 110.10. However, this exception to the general contribution limits does not apply to contributions from members of the candidate’s family. Such contributions are subject to the same limits that apply to any other individual. For more information on contributions from candidates personal funds, consult our website at https://www.fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/candidate-taking-receipts/using-personal-funds-candidate/.
Designating contributions. Campaign committees should encourage contributors to designate contributions in writing for specific elections since undesignated contributions automatically count against the donor's limit for the candidate's next election. 11 CFR 110.1(b)(2)(ii). For example, an undesignated contribution to a House candidate received in 2009 would count against the 2010 primary election limit. Campaign committees must retain copies of contribution designations for three years. 11 CFR 102.9(c) and (f).
Debt retirement for a previous election. A campaign may accept contributions after an election to retire election debts provided that it satisfies the following requirements:
- The contribution is designated in writing specifically for the election for which the debt was incurred (since an undesignated contribution counts against the donor's limit for the candidate's next election). For example, a donor should label a contribution to retire the 2008 general election debt as "2008 general debt."
- The contribution, when combined with the contributor’s other contributions toward the designated election, does not exceed that person's limit for the designated election; and
- The campaign has net debts outstanding for the designated election on the day it receives the contribution. (A campaign's net debts outstanding consist of unpaid debts incurred with respect to the election plus estimated costs to liquidate the debts minus cash on hand and receivables.) 11 CFR 110.1(b)(3)(ii).
Disclosing contributions for two election cycles in one report. If a candidate chooses to redesignate his or her principal campaign committee from a prior election to a future election, then that committee must continue to report the debts from the previous election as well as contributions designated to retire them. 11 CFR 104.11, 110.1(b)(3) and (4) and 110.2(b)(3) and (4). Under these circumstances, a candidate who has received both 2008 general election debt retirement contributions and 2010 primary election contributions must disclose information on both cycles in the same FEC report. On the Summary Page of Form 3 (Reports of Receipts and Disbursements), the campaign may indicate that the report contains activity for both the primary and general elections by checking the applicable boxes. When itemizing contributions on Schedule A, campaigns must check the primary or general election box when itemizing contributions for the current election cycle. By contrast, campaigns must check the "other" box when itemizing debt retirement contributions for the previous election cycle, and note the specific election to which the contribution applies.
Disclosing debts from a previous election cycle. Redesignated campaign committees must continue to report outstanding loans and debts remaining from previous elections on Schedules C and D. 11 CFR 104.11. For information on reporting debts and other related issues, consult our website at https://www.fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/handling-loans-debts-and-advances/.
Where to obtain forms and more information
All FEC forms and instructions are available on the Commission's website at https://www.fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/forms. Forms are also available by fax by calling the automated FEC Faxline at 202/501-3413. For more information on these or other campaign finance regulations, call the FEC's Information Division (800/424-9530 or 202/694-1100).