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Complying with primary spending limits

To be eligible for matching funds, presidential candidates must agree to limit their spending to specified amounts. Publicly-funded primary candidates are subject to both state-by-state limits and to an overall, national ceiling.

Spending limits

As part of this agreement, presidential candidates pledge to:

  • Limit campaign spending for all primary elections combined to $10 million plus a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) (over 1974);
  • Limit campaign spending in each state to $200,000 plus COLA, or to a specified amount based on the number of voting age individuals in the state (plus COLA), whichever is greater;
  • Limit spending from personal funds to $50,000; and
  • Facilitate an audit of their campaigns and make any necessary repayments.

The Commission calculates the amounts of the expenditures attributable to the overall expenditure limit or to a particular state by using the full amounts originally charged for goods and services rendered to the committee. This does not include the amounts for which such obligations were settled and paid, unless the lower amount paid reflects a reasonable settlement of a bona fide dispute with the creditor.

In addition to expenditures made by a candidate or the candidate's authorized committee(s) using their campaign funds, the Commission will attribute to the candidate's overall expenditure limitation and to the expenditure limitations of particular states the total amount of all:

  • Coordinated expenditures;
  • Coordinated communications that are in-kind contributions received or accepted by the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee(s), or agents;
  • Coordinated party expenditures, including party coordinated communications that are in-kind contributions received or accepted by the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee(s), or agents, and that exceed the coordinated party expenditure limitation for the presidential general election; and
  • Other in-kind contributions received or accepted by the candidate or the candidate's authorized committees or agents.

Limits on expenditures from personal funds

No candidate who has accepted matching funds shall knowingly make expenditures from the candidate's personal funds, or funds of his or her immediate family in connection with the candidate's campaign for nomination for election to the office of President, which exceed $50,000, in the aggregate. This does not prohibit any member of the candidate's immediate family from contributing personal funds to the candidate, subject to the contribution limits. The regulations will not limit the candidate's liability for, nor the candidate's ability to pay, any repayments required when under an audit and examination. If the candidate or the candidate's committee knowingly incurs expenditures in excess of the limitations of the presidential expenditure limits, the Commission may seek civil penalties in addition to any repayment determinations made on the basis of such excessive expenditures.

Attribution of expenditures to limit

Any expenditure for goods or services that are used for the primary election campaign, other than for non-qualified campaign expenses, shall be attributed to the limits set forth in the primary spending limits described on this page.

Polling

Polling expenses are attributed to the primary limit if the results are received on or before the date of the candidate’s nomination. If results are received from a single poll both before and after the date of the nomination, the costs must be allocated between the primary and general election limits based on the percentage of results received during each period.

Overhead and salary costs

Prior to the date of the last primary election in a presidential election year, overhead and salary costs incurred in connection with state or national campaign offices shall be attributed to the primary election.

With regard to overhead and salary costs incurred on or after June 1 of the presidential election year, but before or on the date of nomination, the committee may attribute 15 percent of the limitation on primary-election expenditures to the general election limit.

Campaign materials

Campaign materials purchased and used by the primary election campaign committee are attributed to the primary spending limits, except for those materials transferred to and used by the general election committee (which are attributed to the general spending limit).

Media production costs

Media distribution costs, including such costs as air time and advertising space in newspapers, are paid for 100 percent by the primary election campaign funds when the communication is broadcast or distributed before the candidate’s nomination.

For media communications that are broadcast or published both before and after the date of the candidate's nomination, 50 percent of the media production costs are attributed to the primary election limits, and 50 percent to the general election limits.

Solicitation and fundraising costs

The costs of fundraising, including events and solicitation costs, are attributable to the primary spending limits if the purpose of the fundraising is to raise funds for the primary campaign. If the candidate raises funds for both the primary election and the GELAC fund in a single communication or event, the expenses will be allocated against both the primary and general election spending limits in a matter similar to joint fundraising.

Communication costs

The costs of a communication that does not contain a solicitation that is broadcast, published or mailed before the date of the candidate’s nomination are attributable to the primary election limits.

Travel costs

If campaign-related travel occurs on or before the date of the candidate’s nomination, the costs for campaign-related transportation, food, and lodging by any individual are attributable to the primary election limit. Travel to and from the national nominating convention is also attributable to the primary election.

Exemptions from spending limits

The campaign finance law exempts the payment of some expenses from the spending limits. Certain fundraising expenses (up to 20 percent of the expenditure limit) and legal and accounting expenses incurred solely to ensure the campaign's compliance with the law do not count against the expenditure limits.

Exemption for fundraising expenses

Certain fundraising expenses may not exceed 20 percent of the overall expenditure limit. These fundraising expenses include the costs in connection with the solicitation of contributions. The costs in connection with the solicitation of contributions means any costs reasonably related to a fundraising activity including:

  • Costs of printing and postage;
  • Production of and space of air time for advertisements used for fundraising; and
  • Costs of meals, beverages and other costs associated with a fundraising reception or dinner.

Exemption for legal and accounting expenses

A candidate may exclude from overall expenditure limit an amount equal to 15 percent of the overall spending limit as exempt legal and accounting compliance costs.

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