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Donating? Here’s What to Know to Comply with Campaign Donation Laws – and When to Talk to a Lawyer

The national and state 2020 elections may go down in history as the most important ones ever. Those who have the means are tempted to donate large sums of money to their favorite candidate. They do not intend to go against federal campaign donation laws, which are complicated and difficult to understand, but some may think there is a way to circumvent the laws.

In December 2019, an 80-year old Texas man pled guilty to violating campaign donation laws. Employees and family members had contributed to federal candidates and the businessman reimbursed them for their contributions. Between 2015 and 2017, it was determined he had made $323,300 in donations in this manner using personal and corporate funds. These acts were in violation of federal campaign finance laws, and he faces up to two years in prison and a $1.6 million fine.

Overview of Federal Campaign Finance Laws

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) is a complicated piece of legislation that has been amended several times. Its basic function is to limit the amount of money one individual can give to the campaign of a political candidate or to a National Party Committee. It also has restrictions on the source of the funds and disclosure requirements applicable to the recipient of the donated funds.

Through the years, the US Supreme Court has interpreted provisions of FECA and invalidated some portions of the act which the court determined were unconstitutional. This makes it even more difficult to understand the law.

The Federal Election Commission has published a chart for individuals to consult to determine how much they can give to each entity. The chart helps, but it is still a bit muddled.

According to the Commission, “the limits refer to how much one donor can contribute as well as how they can contribute.” The act also places restrictions on those who receive campaign donations. For example, FECA bans:

  • Individuals from making contributions through a conduit.
  • Candidates from converting campaign contributions for their personal use.
  • Treating communications that a donor makes in coordination with a candidate or party as contributions.

There are different rules regarding whether you are donating to the individual candidate’s campaign, whether you are donating to the political party or whether you are donating to a Super Pac.

Rules for Donating to a Super PAC: Contributions Versus Expenditures

FECA has different rules depending on whether the money donated is a campaign contribution given directly to a candidate’s campaign committee versus an expenditure. An expenditure is money spent in advocacy for either the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

Money that registered super PACs spend is considered for expenditures. The super PACs are independent of the candidate who has no communication with or direction over the activities and expenditures of the super PAC. Individuals, corporations, labor unions and other political action committees may each make unlimited donations to a super PAC.

Talk to a Lawyer Before You Donate

Harvard Law School graduate Michael J. Wynne can assist you in making your campaign donation in a way that you know will be free from an election finance law violation. His portfolio of successes include numerous election and campaign finance law cases, and he’s spent decades in helping individuals ensure they are fully compliant.

If you fear you may have violated one of these complicated campaign donation laws, contact him as soon as possible, before you become a defendant in a criminal case.

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