Understanding ways to support federal candidates
Many activities that support or oppose candidates for federal office are subject to the federal campaign finance law. This page provides information on the law for citizens who want to support or oppose federal candidates.
The law limits the sources and amounts of funds used to finance federal elections. Contributions are subject to the limits listed in this chart.
Contribution limits for 2019-2020
|Candidate committee||PAC† (SSF and nonconnected)||Party committee: state/district/local||Party committee: national||Additional national party committee accounts‡|
|Donor||Individual||$2,800* per election||$5,000 per year||$10,000 per year (combined)||$35,500* per year||$106,500* per account, per year|
|Candidate committee||$2,000 per election||$5,000 per year||Unlimited transfers||Unlimited transfers|
|PAC: multicandidate||$5,000 per election||$5,000 per year||$5,000 per year (combined)||$15,000 per year||$45,000 per account, per year|
|PAC: nonmulticandidate||$2,800* per election||$5,000 per year||$10,000 per year (combined)||$35,500* per year||$106,500* per account, per year|
|Party committee: state/district/local||$5,000 per election (combined)||$5,000 per year (combined)||Unlimited transfers||Unlimited transfers|
|Party committee: national||$5,000 per election**||$5,000 per year||Unlimited transfers||Unlimited transfers|
*Indexed for inflation in odd-numbered years.
†“PAC” here refers to a committee that makes contributions to other federal political committees. Independent-expenditure-only political committees (sometimes called “Super PACs”) may accept unlimited contributions, including from corporations and labor organizations.
‡The limits in this column apply to a national party committee’s accounts for: (i) the presidential nominating convention; (ii) election recounts and contests and other legal proceedings; and (iii) national party headquarters buildings. A party’s national committee, Senate campaign committee and House campaign committee are each considered separate national party committees with separate limits. Only a national party committee, not the parties’ national congressional campaign committees, may have an account for the presidential nominating convention.
**Additionally, a national party committee and its Senatorial campaign committee may contribute up to $49,600 combined per campaign to each Senate candidate.
Individuals and groups may support or oppose a candidate by paying for public communications (communications by means of any broadcast, cable or satellite communication, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising facility, mass mailing or telephone bank to the general public, or any other form of general public political advertising). Communications over the internet are not considered "public communications," except for communications placed for a fee on another person’s website. Communications over the internet are discussed in the section "Using a computer for political activity."
When an individual or group pays for a communication that is coordinated with a campaign, a candidate, a political party committee, or with an agent of a campaign, candidate, or political party committee, the communication results in an in-kind contribution subject to limitations and prohibitions, and must display a disclaimer notice.
Individuals and groups may support or oppose candidates by making independent expenditures. An independent expenditure is an expenditure for a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and which is not made in coordination with any campaign, candidate, political party committee, or with an agent of any campaign, candidate, or political party committee.
Independent expenditures are not subject to any contribution limits, but may be subject to reporting requirements. (The campaign of a candidate benefiting from an independent expenditure has no reporting obligation.) An independent expenditure must display a disclaimer notice.
Acting as a group
A group of persons must register as a political committee within 10 days of raising or spending more than $1,000 in contributions or expenditures during a calendar year if the group’s major purpose is federal campaign activity (that is, the nomination or election of federal candidates). Groups that wish to avoid registration and disclosure should make certain that their activities do not exceed this registration threshold.
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, public communications 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.