In addition to making contributions (up to $5,000 per election as a multicandidate committee), party committees may support a candidate through other activities. These other activities are reportable by the political party committee but not by the campaign of the candidate receiving the support. Note that some of these activities may trigger additional reporting responsibilities or funding provisions for the party committee.
Coordinated party expenditures
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) creates a special exception to the contribution limits for certain party activities supporting candidates. The national party committee and the state party committee each have an additional special contribution limit for coordinated party expenditures made in connection with the general election campaigns of U.S. House and Senate candidates. In the past, coordinated party expenditures were often called “441a(d) expenditures” because they were provided for in 2 U.S.C. § 441a(d) of the Act.
Although these expenditures may be coordinated with a campaign, the party committee must actually make the expenditure on behalf of the campaign; money given directly to the candidate’s campaign is not a coordinated party expenditure.
Coordinated party expenditures vs. In-kind contributions
When making either coordinated party expenditures or in-kind contributions, a party committee purchases goods or services for the benefit of a campaign. The committee may decide whether to treat an expenditure made on behalf of the candidate as a coordinated party expenditure or as an in-kind contribution. (Monetary contributions given directly to the campaign do not qualify as coordinated party expenditures.)
Despite their similarity, coordinated party expenditures differ from in-kind contributions in several ways:
- Coordinated party expenditures may be made in connection with the general election only (although they may be made during the primary period), whereas in-kind contributions may be made for any election.
- Coordinated party expenditures count toward the special spending limits explained above, whereas in-kind contributions count against the committee's per-candidate, per-election limits on contributions (e.g., $5,000).
- Coordinated party expenditures are reported by the party committee only, whereas in-kind contributions and party coordinated communications are reported by both the party committee and the recipient campaign.
Party independent expenditures
Party committees may make independent expenditures on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates. Such expenditures are not subject to contribution or coordinated party expenditure limits.
Exempt party activities
Two types of grassroots activities–preparation, display and distribution of campaign materials and slate cards–undertaken by state and local party committees in support of specific federal candidates are unlimited because they are exempt from the definition of contribution. Note that although they are exempt from contribution limitations, such activities often qualify as Federal Election Activity (FEA) and thus may be subject to certain funding restrictions. Moreover, payments made by an unregistered party organization for such materials count towards the organization's FEC registration threshold.
Sources of funds
Many local party organizations are not registered political committees under the Act and may, under state law, accept donations that would be prohibited or excessive under the Act. These funds may not be used to pay for exempt party activities. Instead, the party must use funds that are permissible under federal law.
A state or local party committee or organization may prepare and distribute campaign materials such as pins, bumper stickers, handbills, brochures, posters or yard signs without having its payments for such items considered contributions or expenditures if the following conditions are met:
- The activity is conducted on behalf of the party's nominees for the general election;
- The materials are distributed by volunteers, not through public advertising such as broadcast media, newspapers, magazines or billboards or by direct mail (that is, a mailing by a commercial vendor or from commercial lists),
- The party committee does not use materials purchased by the national party committee or money transferred from the national party committee specifically to purchase the materials;
- The party committee does not use funds designated by a donor for a particular candidate; and
- A payment from a state or local candidate to help pay for the materials does not exceed his or her share of the expenses.
Slate cards and sample ballots
A state or local party committee or organization may prepare and distribute a slate card, sample ballot, palm card or other printed list naming candidates for any public office. The payments are not considered contributions or expenditures on behalf of any federal candidate listed as long as the following conditions are met:
- The list names at least three candidates running for any election to any public office within the state;
- The list is not distributed through public advertising, such as broadcast media, newspapers, magazines or billboards. Note however, that it may be distributed by direct mail (that is, a mailing by a commercial vendor or from a commercial list); and
- The content is limited to the identification of each candidate (pictures may be used), the office or position currently held, the office sought and party affiliation. The list must exclude any additional biographical data on candidates and their positions on issues as well as statements on party philosophy. Certain voting information, however, may be given, such as time, place and instructions on voting a straight party ticket.
The campaign of a candidate supported through exempt party activities is not required to report them. If these activities are conducted by a federally registered party committee, the party committee must report them. (Note that these exempt activities may trigger registration and reporting obligations for a local party organization.)