The FEC often receives questions from individuals regarding contributions to federal candidates (and other political committees). While this article responds to some of the most common questions, it does not cover all aspects of the relevant regulations. Readers should consult the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations, advisory opinions, and relevant case law for additional information.
During the 2019-20 election cycle, contributions from individuals to federal candidates are limited to $2,800 per election (this amount is indexed for inflation in odd numbered years). Each federal candidate is entitled to a separate limit for each election they participate in – this includes the primary, general, and any runoff or special elections. Contributions designated for a specific election must be made on or before the date of the election, unless designated to retire a debt. In the case of presidential candidates, all presidential primary elections held during an election year are considered one election for the purposes of the contribution limits. For major party candidates, the primary election period ends on the date that the candidate accepts the nomination of the party.
Independent and non-major party candidates are also entitled to a primary limit, even if they are not involved in an actual primary. These candidates may choose one of the following dates to be their “primary” date for the purpose of collecting contributions.
- The last day on which, under state law, a candidate may qualify for a position on the general election ballot; or
- The date of the last major party primary election, caucus or convention in that state. Alternatively, non-major party candidates may choose the date of the nomination by their party as their primary date.
Candidates are also entitled to a separate limit for elections in which they run unopposed, or circumstances in which a primary or general is not held because the candidate is unopposed or the general election is not held because the candidate received a majority of votes in the previous election. In these cases, the date on which the election would have been held is considered the date of the election.
Federal government contractors
Federal government contractors may not make any contribution to a political party or candidate for federal office, and political parties and federal candidates may not solicit contributions from federal contractors. A federal government contractor is a person who enters into a contract, or is bidding on such a contract, with any agency or department of the United States government and is paid, or is to be paid, for services, material, equipment, supplies, land or buildings with funds appropriated by Congress. Since corporate contributions are already prohibited, the government contractor ban applies primarily to contributions from a partnership (or a limited liability company) with a government contract. It also applies to the personal and business funds of:
- Individuals under contract to the federal government; and
- Sole proprietors of businesses with federal contracts.
Note that the spouse of such an individual is not prohibited from making a personal contribution in his or her own name (as long as he or she is not otherwise prohibited from making contributions in connection with a federal election).
A foreign national may not make contributions or disbursements in connection with any federal, state, or local election, nor may any person knowingly solicit, accept, or receive such a contribution or donation from a foreign national. A foreign national is an individual who is not a citizen of the United States, and is not lawfully admitted for permanent residence (does not have a “green card”). If a campaign, committee, or other person soliciting or receiving contributions has reason to question whether a potential contributor is a foreign national (e.g., the contributor’s address is outside the U.S.), the committee or person may ask for and obtain a copy of a current and valid U.S. passport to satisfy the duty to verify that the potential contributor is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Contributions in the name of another
A contribution made by one person in the name of another is prohibited. For example, an individual who has already contributed up to the limit to a campaign 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.
Contributions from minors
An individual who is under 18 years old may make contributions to candidates and political committees, subject to the amount and source limitations described above, if:
- The decision to contribute is made knowingly and voluntarily by the minor;
- The funds, goods or services contributed are owned or controlled by the minor; for example, earned income, proceeds from a trust for which he or she is a beneficiary or funds withdrawn by the minor from a financial account opened and maintained in his or her name; and
- The contribution is not made using funds given to the minor as a gift for the purpose of making the contribution, and is not in any way controlled by another individual.
Campaigns and political committees may solicit recurring contributions where an amount of the contributor’s choosing is debited from a bank account or charged to a credit card on a periodic basis. In Advisory Opinion 1991-01 (Deloitte & Touche PAC), the Commission stated that “the permissibility of these arrangements is conditioned upon the continuing right of the contributor to revoke such authorization.”
To stop making recurring contributions, contributors should contact the campaign or political committee to revoke their contribution authorization.
Disclosure of personal information
The Act requires political committees to make their best efforts to obtain and disclose individual contributor information. To demonstrate best efforts, political committees must request in writing on any solicitation the full name, mailing address, occupation and name of employer for each individual who contributes more than $200 per election cycle (or calendar year for PACs and party committees). If the contributor does not provide the information, the committee treasurer must make at least one follow-up request within 30 days of the receipt of the contribution.
Committees are only required to identify individual contributors who give more than $200 in the aggregate (for the calendar year or election cycle, as appropriate), but some choose to itemize all contributions regardless of amount. No provision of the Act or Commission regulations prohibits this additional disclosure. By law, the FEC must make all campaign finance disclosure reports available to the public, including on its website, within 48 hours of receipt.
To protect the privacy of individual contributors, the Act prohibits the sale or use of any information copied or otherwise obtained from any report or statement filed under the Act, including contributors’ names and addresses, for the purpose of soliciting contributions or for commercial purposes. Commission regulations also prohibit the use of this information to solicit donations, including charitable donations. Contributors that make “earmarked contributions” through a conduit – including contributions made through third-party platforms that are registered political committees – should note that the conduit must disclose all earmarked contributions, regardless of amount. This disclosure is in addition to disclosure by the ultimate recipient committee (subject to the $200 aggregate reporting threshold).
If a contributor believes that their identifying information should be corrected or updated on an FEC report, the contributor should contact the committee that filed it. The committee will need to file an amended report to change the information. Upon receipt of the amended report, the Commission will make it publicly available and will also update its individual contributor database to reflect the new information. However, the original report will remain on the public record.
For additional information, call the FEC’s Information Division at 1-800-424-9530, menu option 6 or 202-694-1100. You may also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or refer to the resources linked below.
52 U.S.C. 30101(1)
Definition of elections
52 U.S.C. 30104(a)(11)(B)
Report accessibility on the Internet
52 U.S.C. 30111(a)(4)
Sale or use restriction; 48-hour public availability; use of pseudonyms
52 U.S.C. 30112
Making reports available online
52 U.S.C. 30116
52 U.S.C. 30119
Federal government contractor contributions, prohibited
11 CFR 100.2
Definition of elections
11 CFR 102.8
Receipt of contributions
11 CFR 104.7
Best efforts of treasurer to obtain contributor information
11 CFR 104.15
Sale or use restriction
11 CFR 110.1
11 CFR 110.6
11 CFR 110.19
Contributions by minors
11 CFR 110.20
Prohibition on contributions, donations, expenditures, independent expenditures, and disbursements by foreign nationals
11 CFR 115