Political finance


How are political parties and politicians funded in your jurisdiction?

Most political campaigns are privately funded. Qualifying presidential candidates can receive public funding, if they agree to abide by certain spending limitations. Although public funding is indexed for inflation, the spending caps have not kept up with private campaign spending and the rules are difficult to abide by. As a result, very few qualifying presidential candidates choose to accept public funding. For example, in addition to the overall spending limitation, there are spending limits set for each individual state based on the voting-age population rather than where the state’s primary date falls in the election year.

Registration of interests

Must parties and politicians register or otherwise declare their interests? What interests, other than travel, hospitality and gifts, must be declared?

Political candidates must register with the Federal Election Commission as soon as they receive contributions or make expenditures of at least US$5,000. Candidates must file a Statement of Candidacy to authorise a principal campaign committee to raise and spend funds on their behalf. Thereafter, the campaign must report its receipts and disbursements regularly.

Congressional candidates, members of Congress and certain congressional staff must file periodic financial disclosure reports that include information about the amount and source of income, and certain financial transactions. These documents are accessible through the Senate and House websites.

Contributions to political parties and officials

Are political contributions or other disbursements to parties and political officials limited or regulated? How?

Individuals may contribute up to: US$2,700 per election to a political candidate; US$5,000 per year to a federal political action committee; US$10,000 per year (combined) to local, district and state party committees; US$33,900 per year to national party committees; and US$101,7000 per account per year to additional national party committee accounts, which include the presidential nominating convention, election legal proceedings and national party headquarters buildings. Individuals may make unlimited contributions to independent expenditure-only political committees, which are often called super PACs.

Sources of funding for political campaigns

Describe how political campaigns for legislative positions and executive offices are financed.

Public funding is available for qualifying presidential candidates, but spending caps that have not kept up with abundant private campaign donations and a rigid regulatory framework have led to very few candidates opting to use public funding. Candidates for congress do not have access to a public funding system.

Most presidential candidates and all congressional campaigns are funded from individual donations, political action committee donations and party donations. Super PACs can also spend money on behalf of a candidate’s campaign, provided that the spending is not coordinated with the campaign. There is disagreement on whether super PAC spending is helpful to candidates. Some candidates have reached agreements with their opponents to discourage outside spending in their races in an attempt to combat uncontrolled and sometimes radical super PAC advertising.

Lobbyist participation in fundraising and electioneering

Describe whether registration as a lobbyist triggers any special restrictions or disclosure requirements with respect to candidate fundraising.

Registered lobbyists must report aggregate contributions of US$200 or more to any federal candidate or officeholder, leadership PAC or political action committee semi-annually. Registered lobbyists must also report the names of all political committees established or controlled by them semi-annually.

Independent expenditure and coordination

How is parallel political campaigning independent of a candidate or party regulated?

Parallel political campaigning independent of a candidate is generally unlimited, provided that the communications are not coordinated with the candidate. If an individual or political committee pays for a coordinated communication, the communication is considered an in-kind contribution and is subject to federal campaign finance law. Public communications that qualify as an independent expenditure must display a disclaimer that contains the full name of the sponsoring committee along with any abbreviated name used by the committee. Communications that are not authorised by a candidate must contain a disclaimer to that extent. Social media messaging has been subject to little regulation, but since the 2016 election, Congress has started to look into social media advertising disclosure requirements.