For more than three decades, Jim Cousar has been a lawyer specializing in election law and campaign finance. Even so, he was taken aback by the amount of money that was spent on local school board elections during the recent midterm elections. Under federal campaign finance law, activities that support or oppose candidates for federal office are subject to certain limits and restrictions. This page provides information about the law for citizens who want to support or oppose federal candidates.
The law limits the sources and amounts of funds used to fund federal elections. Contributions are subject to the limits set out in this table. Individuals and groups can back or oppose a candidate by paying for public communications, such as through any transmission, cable or satellite communication, newspaper, magazine, outdoor advertising service, mass mailing or telephone banking to the general public, or any other form of public political advertising in general. Communications over the Internet are not considered public communications, except for communications made for a fee on another person's website, digital device, application, or advertising platform. When a person or group pays for coordinated communication with a campaign, a candidate, a committee of a political party or with an agent of a campaign committee, candidate, or political party, the communication results in an in-kind contribution subject to limitations and prohibitions, and must include a disclaimer notice. Individuals and groups can also support or oppose candidates by spending independently.
Independent spending is an expense for communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and that is not done in coordination with any campaign committee, candidate, political party, or with an agent of any campaign committee, candidate, or political party. Separate expenses are not subject to any contribution limits but may be subject to information requirements. A candidate's campaign that benefits from independent spending has no obligation to report. People can also help candidates and committees by offering personal services as volunteers. Volunteer services are not considered contributions as long as no one pays the volunteer. If the services are compensated by someone other than the committee itself, the payment is considered a contribution by that person to the committee.
People who are employees, shareholders, or members of a corporation or union can use the organization's facilities (for example, the telephone) in connection with personal volunteer activities in accordance with the organization's rules and practices. However, the activity cannot prevent an employee from completing their normal work nor can it interfere with the normal activity of the organization. If the volunteer activity exceeds the incidental use of the facilities (one hour a week or four hours a month), the volunteer must reimburse the corporation or union for 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 the time spent. Any reimbursement for the use of the facilities is considered a contribution by the person to the political committee who benefits. An uncompensated individual or group of people can participate in online activities in order to influence an unrestricted federal election. Personal use of computers and Internet access is allowed subject to employer regulations and provided that the person does not receive compensation for their activity. People can send unlimited emails about any political topic without identifying who they are or if their messages have been authorized by any party or campaign committee.
Internet communications placed on another person's website, digital device, application, or advertising platform in exchange for a fee are considered general public political advertising and are therefore public communications under the law. Therefore these payments may result in contributions or expenses. Other regulations related to coordinated communications and liability exemption requirements would also apply. Presidential elections are subject to many of the same funding rules as House and Senate campaigns. Anyone can file a complaint if they believe that a violation of the law has occurred or is about to occur. The requirements for filing a complaint are established by law. Texas' large evangelical population and history of activism in black churches make it an important battleground for debates about political activity according to Matthew Wilson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
During this period, instead of taking action against churches engaging in political activity, IRS mainly sent warning letters which were effective in dissuading churches from continuing their political activity. Then just four days before the 1992 presidential election Branch Ministries of New York ran two full-page ads in USA Today and The Washington Times urging voters to reject then-governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton. According to ProPublica and The Tribune investigations into churches engaging in political activity during this period revealed more apparent violations than total number of churches. The role that political endorsements play in Central Texas elections is significant due to its large evangelical population and history of activism within black churches. This has made it an important battleground for debates about political activity according to Matthew Wilson from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. During this period IRS mainly sent warning letters instead of taking action against churches engaging in political activity which were effective in dissuading them from continuing their political activity. The most notable example was when Branch Ministries ran two full-page ads just four days before 1992 presidential election urging voters to reject then-governor Bill Clinton.
Investigations into churches engaging in political activity during this period revealed more apparent violations than total number of churches. Under federal campaign finance law there are certain limits and restrictions on activities that support or oppose candidates for federal office. This includes contributions which are subject to certain limits set out by law as well as independent spending which is an expense for communication that expressly advocates for either election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate which is not done in coordination with any campaign committee. People can also help candidates and committees by offering personal services as volunteers without being compensated however if they do receive compensation then it is considered a contribution by that person to the committee. People who are employees shareholders or members of corporations or unions can use their organization's facilities such as telephone but only if it does not interfere with their normal work. Anyone can file a complaint if they believe that there has been violation of law which has occurred or is about to occur.