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Receiving a public funding grant for the general election

Public funding for major party presidential nominees in the general election takes the form of a grant of $20 million plus a cost of living adjustment (COLA). (In 2020, the general election grant will be $103.7 million.) To be eligible to receive public funds, the presidential nominee of a major party must agree to limit spending to the amount of the grant and may not accept private contributions for the campaign.

Minor party candidates and new party candidates may qualify for partial general election funding, based on their party's electoral performance, or upon the candidates' electoral performance in the preceding election year. Although minor and new party candidates may supplement public funds with private contributions and may exempt some fundraising costs from their expenditure limit, they are otherwise subject to the same spending limit and other requirements that apply to major party candidates.

Candidate agreements and certifications

To be eligible for receiving the general election public funding grant, presidential candidates must submit a letter of agreements and certifications. In this letter, the candidates and their authorized committees must agree to comply with all provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act and the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act and Commission regulations. The candidates also agree to:

  • Limit spending to the amount of the grant payable to the major party candidates;
  • Limit spending from personal funds to $50,000;
  • Not accept private contributions for the campaign, with certain exceptions;
  • Keep and submit to the Commission upon request all documentation relating to funds received and disbursements made on the candidate's behalf, including transactions by other political committees and organizations associated with the candidate and proof that disbursements by the candidate or any authorized committees or agents are "qualified campaign expenses" as defined at 11 CFR 9002.11;
  • Use closed captioning in their television commercials; and
  • Facilitate an audit of their campaigns and make any necessary repayments.

Candidates seeking public funding for the general election should contact the Commission’s Audit Division at 1-800-424-9530 (extension 1200) and request a copy of the Commission's Financial Control and Compliance Manual for General Election Candidates Receiving Public Funding.

Major party candidate certifications

Major party candidates must submit the required certifications and agreements in a signed letter to the Commission within 14 days after receiving the party's nomination for election.

Fundraising by major party candidates

A presidential primary candidate may solicit and receive private contributions for the presidential general election during the primary election cycle without losing the eligibility to receive public funding if the candidate receives the party’s nomination for President, provided the candidate (1) deposits and maintains all private contributions designated for the general election in a separate account, (2) refrains from using these contributions for any purpose, and (3) refunds the private contributions in full if the candidate ultimately decides to receive public funds.

Although major party candidates seeking general election public funding agree to forego accepting contributions, private contributions may, however, be accepted for a special account maintained exclusively to pay for legal and accounting expenses associated with complying with the campaign finance law.

Minor and new party candidates

Minor and new party candidates must submit the required certifications and agreements in a signed letter within 14 days after such candidates have qualified to appear on the general election ballot in 10 or more states. The Commission, upon written request by a minor or new party candidate made at any time prior to the date of the general election, may extend the deadline for filing such letter, except that the deadline shall be a date prior to the day of the general election.

Minor party candidates: A minor party candidate is the nominee of a party whose candidate received between 5 and 25 percent of the total popular vote in the preceding presidential election. The amount of public funding to which a minor party candidate is entitled is based on the ratio of the party's popular vote in the preceding presidential election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in that election.

Minor and new party candidates: A minor or new party candidate is entitled to receive partial public funding after the election if the candidate receives five percent or more of the popular vote. The entitlement is based on the ratio of the minor or new party candidate's popular vote in the current election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in the election.

Minor and new party candidates may also qualify for some public funds before the general election.

A candidate of a minor party who was also the candidate of a minor party in the preceding election (but not necessarily the same minor party) is entitled to receive partial public funding if he or she received five percent of the popular vote in the preceding election. The entitlement is based on the ratio of the minor party candidate’s popular vote in the preceding election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in the preceding election.

A candidate of a minor party who was not personally a candidate in the preceding election, but whose party’s candidate received at least five percent but less than twenty-five percent of the popular vote is also eligible. The entitlement is based on the ratio of the popular votes received by the person who was the minor party’s candidate in the preceding election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in the preceding election. However, the amount to which the minor party candidate is entitled under this paragraph will be reduced by the amount, if any, to which that candidate may be entitled under the previous paragraph.

A new party candidate may also be eligible to receive partial public funding before the election if he or she was a candidate in at least ten states in the preceding election and received at least five percent but less than twenty-five percent of the popular vote. The entitlement is based on the ratio of the new party candidate’s popular vote in the preceding election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in the preceding election. However, the amount to which the new party candidate is entitled under this paragraph will be reduced by the amount, if any, to which that candidate may be entitled as a consequence of having been a candidate of a minor party in the preceding presidential election.

If a minor or new party candidate has received pre-election public funds under the criteria summarized above, and is also eligible to receive post-election public funds, the amount of post-election public funds the candidate will receive will be limited to the difference between the amount of that candidate’s entitlement to post-election public funds and the amount of his or her entitlement to pre-election public funds.

Fundraising by minor and new party candidates

A minor or new party candidate may solicit private contributions, subject to limitations and prohibitions, to defray qualified campaign expenses which exceed the amount of public funding received by the candidate. Any costs incurred for soliciting contributions shall not be considered expenditures to the extent that the aggregate of such costs does not exceed 20 percent of the expenditure limitation. Note that the costs must still be reported as disbursements.

Commission certification of eligibility and payments

Once the Commission certifies a candidate's eligibility, the Treasury Department makes the necessary payment upon receipt of the Commission’s certification.

Major party candidates

Within 10 days after the Commission determines that the presidential and vice presidential candidates of a major party have met all applicable conditions for eligibility to receive payments, the Commission shall certify to the Secretary of the Treasury that payment in full of the amounts to which such candidates are entitled should be made.

Minor and new party candidates

Before the general election: Within 10 days after a minor or new party candidate has met all applicable conditions for eligibility to receive pre-election payments, the Commission will make an initial determination of the amount, if any, to which the candidate is entitled. The Commission will base its determination on the percentage of votes received in the official vote count certified in each state. In notifying the candidate, the Commission will give the legal and factual reasons for its determination and advise the candidate of the evidence on which the determination is based. The candidate may submit, within 15 days after the Commission's initial determination, written legal or factual materials to demonstrate that a redetermination is appropriate. In making a final determination, the Commission will consider any written legal or factual materials timely submitted by the candidate.

After the general election: Within 30 days after the general election, the Commission will determine whether a minor or new party candidate is eligible for post-election payments. This determination is based on three factors:

  1. The candidate has received at least five percent or more of the total popular vote based on unofficial vote results in each state;
  2. The candidate has filed a preliminary statement of his or her net outstanding qualified campaign expenses; and
  3. The candidate has met all applicable conditions for eligibility.

The Commission will notify the candidate of its initial determination of the amount, if any, to which the candidate is entitled, give the legal and factual reasons for its determination and advise the candidate of the evidence on which the determination is based. The Commission will also notify the candidate that it will deduct a percentage of the amount to which the candidate is entitled based on the unofficial vote results when the Commission certifies an amount for payment. This deduction will be based on the average percentage differential between the unofficial and official vote results for all candidates who received public funds in the preceding presidential general election.

Within 15 days after the Commission's initial determination, the candidate may submit written legal or factual materials to demonstrate that a redetermination is appropriate. The Commission will consider any written legal or factual materials timely submitted by the candidate in making its final determination.

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