This article highlights some basic rules for candidates and campaign committees as they prepare for the 2016 elections.
Individuals running for federal office must register and designate a principal campaign committee within 15 days of becoming a “candidate.” 11 CFR 101.1(a) and 102.12. This requirement applies to all candidates, including incumbents who qualify as candidates for a future election.
Under federal law, 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, either by itself or when combined with any activity authorized by the individual, has exceeded $5,000. 11 CFR 100.3(a)(3) and 102.13(a)(2).
Testing the Waters exemption
FEC regulations include a registration and reporting exemption for individuals who are exploring a potential candidacy, but have not decided whether to enter the race. 11 CFR 100.72. This testing the waters exemption allows individuals to raise and spend funds to travel, conduct polling and engage in other activities aimed at gauging the viability of candidacy without having to register or file reports with the FEC. For more information, consult our e-learning video.
Designation of committee
Candidates must designate a principal campaign committee by filing a Statement of Candidacy, 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 must register by filing a Statement of Organization, FEC Form 1. 11 CFR 102.1(a).
Designation of 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.
Registration on Forms 1 and 2
Like all FEC forms, the Statement of Organization (FEC Form 1) and Statement of Candidacy (FEC Form 2) are available from the FEC by mail, via our automated Faxline and on our website. Beginning this year, most federal candidates and committees can use webforms to register with the Commission online. These online submissions are considered electronic filings and obligate the committee to file all of its reports and statements electronically for the remainder of the calendar year. Senate candidates cannot file electronically, but may print paper copies of the completed webforms and file those with the Secretary of the Senate. See 11 CFR 104.18. House and Presidential candidates must file Forms 1 and 2 electronically if they meet the criteria for mandatory e-filing, described in the next paragraph.
Campaign committees of House and Presidential candidates must file all reports and statements electronically if their total contributions or total expenditures exceed, or are expected to exceed $50,000 in a calendar year. 11 CFR 104.18(a). The mandatory electronic filing rules do not apply to Senate candidates or other committees that file with the Secretary of the Senate. Senate campaigns must file their official reports on paper.
Committees filing with the FEC that are not required to file electronically are encouraged to do so voluntarily. Please note, once a committee begins to file its reports electronically, on a voluntary basis, it must continue to file electronically for the remainder of the calendar year unless the Commission determines that extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances make continued electronic filing impracticable. 11 CFR 104.18(b).
Where to file Forms 1 and 2
Campaigns for the U.S. House and Presidency file their reports, 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.
Candidates who ran in previous elections
A candidate who ran in a previous election must file a new 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 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, by filing with the Commission either FEC Form 1 or a letter noting the changes. 11 CFR 102.2(a)(2).
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.
Employer identification number
The IRS requires political committees to obtain a tax ID number, formally referred to as an employer identification number (EIN). Your committee will need this number to open a bank account. The quickest way to obtain your committee's EIN is via the IRS's website at http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/How-to-Apply-for-an-EIN. Please note: This number is not the same number as your FEC committee ID number. The FEC does not issue EINs, nor may FEC staff answer questions about the rules that pertain to them or other tax law requirements. Please visit http://www.irs.gov/polorgs for information about IRS requirements for political organizations.
Personal financial information
New and ongoing candidates will need to file disclosures of their personal finances with the following offices:
- Candidates for the US House of Representatives should contact the House Committee on Ethics at (202) 225-7103;
- Candidates for the US Senate should contact the Senate Select Committee on Ethics at (202) 224-2981; and
- Candidates for US president and vice president should review a Legal Advisory issued by the Office of Government Ethics and contact the FEC's Office of General Counsel's General Law and Advice Division at (800) 424-9530. (Personal financial disclosure reports filed by presidential and vice presidential candidates (excluding the incumbent) are available from the FEC's Public Records Office at (800) 424-9530 (press 2).)
Questions and information pertaining to the disclosure of a candidate’s personal finances should be directed to the appropriate offices listed above.
Fundraising and contribution limits
Some of the contribution limits that apply to federal candidates are adjusted for inflation each election cycle, so it’s important to consult the chart at https://transition.fec.gov/info/contriblimitschart1516.pdf to ensure your fundraising complies with the limits for the 2015-16 election cycle.
Candidate’s personal funds/Contributions from family members
When candidates use their personal funds for campaign purposes, they are making contributions to their campaigns. While the candidate’s personal contributions must be reported, they are not subject to the limits referenced above. 11 CFR 110.10. Please note, however, that this exception applies only to the candidate’s own contributions and not to contributions from members of the candidate’s family. Their contributions are subject to the same limits that apply to any other individual. For more information on contributions from candidates personal funds, consult the Campaign Guide for Congressional Candidates and Committees, Chapter 4, Section 12.
As noted in the limits chart referenced above, contributions to candidates are limited on a per election basis, with the primary and general considered separate elections. 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), (4)(i), (ii) and (iii). For example, an undesignated contribution to a House candidate received in 2015 would count against the 2016 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 2014 general election debt as “2014 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. 11 CFR 110.1(b)(3)(i). (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 for that election.) 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. Under these circumstances, a candidate who has received both 2014 general election debt retirement contributions and 2016 primary election contributions must disclose both on 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 regularly scheduled elections in the current 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 the Campaign Guide for Congressional Candidates and Committees, Chapter 14.
The FEC offers new and ongoing committees a number of opportunities to promote voluntary compliance with the federal campaign finance laws. These opportunities include the following:
- Committees can attend a two-day, regional conference where Commissioners and staff conduct a variety of technical workshops on the law;
- Committees can attend a day-long webinar or online roundtable workshop for an overview of the rules, or to focus on a specific topic ranging from election year communications to reporting; and
- Committees can take advantage of a variety of instructional materials, including video workshops and interactive presentations that act as a supplement to our outreach programs and allows committees to test their knowledge on the federal campaign finance laws.
For the latest training opportunities, please visit the Educational Outreach page of FEC.gov and subscribe to FECMail to receive email updates when registration opens for a program or new information becomes available.
Where to obtain more information
For more information about running for federal office, please call or email the FEC’s Information Division at 800-424-9530 (press 6) or email@example.com.