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What to Know About 2020 Federal Election Campaign Laws

If you’re involved in an election campaign and receiving campaign donations on behalf of your favorite political candidate for federal office, there are some precautions you need to take to be sure you do not run afoul of the law. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) enforces violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which has many complex rules and regulations concerning limits on giving and receiving campaign contributions.

According to the FEC, contributions are subject to limits that differ depending on the type of donor and recipient. At a minimum, you need to know who can and who cannot contribute to the campaign, what the limits are and how to handle questionable donations. The FEC also provides detailed guidance to campaign candidates and their committees to help them comply with the law.

Who Can and Cannot Contribute to a Federal Election Campaign?

The complete list of who can and who cannot contribute along with detailed explanations is on the FEC site.

Who Can Contribute

Campaigns can accept contributions from:

  • Individuals
  • Minors, if certain qualifications are met
  • Limited Liability Corporations, but with some restrictions depending on whether the LLC is considered a single owner LLC or a partnership
  • Indian tribes
  • Political party committees
  • Political action committees (PACs)
  • Non-connected PACs
  • The authorized committee of another federal political candidate
  • State PACs, unregistered local party organizations and nonfederal campaign committees (There are many restrictions place on these contributions that you need to review.)
  • The candidate

Each category of contributor has different contribution limits and in some cases different circumstances under which they can contribute. There are different rules for campaign volunteers that you also must follow.

Who May Not Contribute to the Federal Campaign

Although corporations, labor unions, federal government contractors, foreign nationals and national banks may not contribute directly to the campaign of a federal candidate, they may donate to a super PAC.

Straw donors are specifically barred from contributing to a campaign. A straw donor is someone who appears to give to a candidate but is reimbursed for the contribution by someone who has met their own donation limit or is otherwise ineligible to make a donation in his or her own name.

How to Interpret the Contribution Limits

The limits apply to each individual federal election in which the candidate participates. For example, a person can give the maximum allowable amount to your candidate for:

  • The primary election
  • The general election
  • A runoff election
  • A special election

Each election is considered a separate election. For example, a person who has made the maximum allowable contribution to a primary election can give the maximum allowable contribution to the general election since it is another election.

What are the Federal Campaign Contribution Limits?

The campaign is responsible for making sure it does not accept a donation in violation of campaign contribution laws. The FEC has a chart for a quick determination of whether a contribution is in an amount within legal boundaries.

The limits vary depending on the source of the contribution. For example, an individual is limited to a $2,800 contribution to an individual candidate per election.

Contributions to super PACS are not limited, and the super PAC can accept donations from individuals, corporations and labor unions. This is because the candidate doesn’t control super PACs, and they finance political activity independent of the control of the candidate.

How to Deal with Questionable Contributions

Violations of federal election campaign laws come with heavy penalties for both the contributor and the campaign that accepted the illegal contributions. This can be tricky. A contribution may be questionable, but the campaign does not want to turn down any legitimate contribution.

The FEC provides details of how a campaign is expected to deal with a questionable contribution. Briefly, the campaign may immediately return the contribution or deposit the funds into the campaign account. If the money is deposited, the funds cannot be used until an investigation is completed that confirms the contribution is legal.

The campaign committee has 30 days to either return the funds or confirm the funds were legally contributed. If it discovers after the 30 days that a contribution violated federal election laws, the campaign must then return the funds.

Consult an Election Law Lawyer for Advice

Michael Wynne is a Harvard Law-educated election law lawyer and former federal prosecutor who has the federal federal election laws expertise needed to help protect individuals, corporations, and political organizations from significant penalties that can be incurred when there is a violation of the complex campaign finance laws. He will help ensure that all political activity is on the right side of the law.

Contact Mr. Wynne to get the advice you need to be effective in your role in the campaign and to be sure you comply with the legal guidelines of federal election campaign laws.

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