Understanding ways to support federal candidates
Many activities that support or oppose candidates for federal office are subject to the federal campaign finance law.
The law limits the sources and amounts of funds used to finance federal elections. Contributions are subject to the limits listed in this chart.
There are several ways individuals may support federal candidates and other political committees active in federal elections.
While most individuals are free to make political contributions, foreign nationals and federal government contractors cannot. The law also prohibits contributions from corporations and labor unions, as well as contributions in the name of another.
Foreign nationals may not make contributions in connection with any election--federal, state or local. This prohibition does not apply to foreign citizens who are lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States (those who have "green cards").
Federal government contractors
Federal government contractors may not make contributions to influence federal elections. However, individuals who are merely employed by a company (or partnership) with federal government contracts are permitted to make contributions from their personal funds.
Corporations and unions
The law also prohibits contributions from corporations and labor unions. This prohibition applies to any incorporated organization, profit or nonprofit.
Contributions in the name of another
Contributions made in the name of another are prohibited. For example, an individual who has already contributed up to the limit for a candidate's election may not give money to another person to make a contribution to the same candidate. Similarly, a corporation is prohibited from using bonuses or other methods of reimbursing employees for their contributions.
An individual may help candidates and committees by volunteering personal services. For example, a volunteer may want to take part in a voter drive or offer skills to a political committee. Volunteer services are not considered contributions as long as the volunteer is not paid by anyone. (If services are compensated by someone other than the committee itself, the payment is considered a contribution by that person to the committee.)
A volunteer may spend unlimited money for normal living expenses.
Individuals may use their homes and personal property for activities benefiting a candidate or political party without making a contribution. For instance, an individual might want to hold a fundraising party or reception in his or her home. Costs for invitations and for food and beverages served at the event are not considered contributions if they remain under certain limits. These expenses on behalf of a candidate are limited to $1,000 per election; expenses on behalf of a political party are limited to $2,000 per year. Any amount spent in excess of the limits is a contribution to the candidate or party committee.
Corporate or union facilities
Individuals who are employees, stockholders or members of a corporation or labor union may use the organization's facilities — for example, the phone — in connection with personal volunteer activities, subject to the rules and practices of the organization. The activity, however, cannot prevent an employee from completing normal work, nor can it interfere with the organization's normal activity.
If volunteer activity exceeds "incidental use" of the facilities — one hour a week or four hours a month — a volunteer must reimburse the corporation or union the normal rental charge within a commercially reasonable time. If a volunteer uses the organization's equipment to produce campaign materials, reimbursement is required regardless of how much time is spent. Any reimbursement for use of facilities is considered a contribution from the individual to the political committee that benefits.
Using a computer for political activity
An uncompensated individual or group of individuals may engage in internet activities for the purpose of influencing a federal election without restriction.
This exemption applies to individuals acting with or without the knowledge or consent of a campaign or a political party committee. Possible internet activities include, but are not limited to:
- Sending or forwarding email
- Providing a hyperlink to a website
- Creating, maintaining or hosting a website and paying a nominal fee for the use of a website.
Please note that these exemptions apply regardless of whether the individual owns the computer he or she is using.
Using a work computer for online political activity
Personal use of computers and internet access is allowed, subject to the employer’s rules and so long as the individual is not compensated for the activity.
Sending personal emails regarding political topics or federal elections
Individuals may send unlimited emails on any political topic without identifying who they are or whether their messages have been authorized by any party or campaign committee.
Posting comments to a blog in connection with a federal election
Uncompensated blogging, whether done by individuals or a group of individuals, incorporated or unincorporated, is exempt from regulation, even in those cases where a nominal fee is paid.
Paying to place an ad on someone else’s website
Internet communications placed on another person’s website for a fee are considered "general public political advertising," and are thus "public communications" under the law.As such,these payments may result in contributions or expenditures. Other regulations regarding coordinated communications and disclaimer requirements would also apply.
Presidential elections are subject to many of the same funding rules as House and Senate campaigns. For information on how to support a presidential candidate, see the information on this page regarding contributions and volunteering.
Filing a complaint
Anyone can submit a complaint if he or she believes a violation of the law has occurred or is about to occur. The requirements for submitting a complaint are set by law.