What is a Contribution?
A contribution is a gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value given to influence a federal election or benefit a candidate or political committee; or the payment by any person of compensation for the personal services of another person if those services are rendered without charge to a candidate or political committee for any purpose. Essentially, anything of value provided to a candidate or political committee, including a federal candidate, a party committee in relation to a federal candidate, or to a PAC.
A contribution can be something given directly to the campaign or political party—such as a monetary or in-kind gift—or it can take the form of coordinated expenditures.
What is a Coordinated Expenditure?
Coordinated expenditures are expenditures made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party committee or its agents. A simple example of coordination occurs if a campaign worked directly with an outside group on the best messaging to use while canvassing - that would be considered coordination. Similarly, if an outside group reached out to a campaign to figure out which voters to target for Get Out the Vote, or if a campaign asked an outside group to use their connections to a local reporter to get a press clip about the candidate, that would be considered coordination.
What are some examples of coordination?
- A candidate asks a group to move its IE work to an area where the candidate’s polling numbers are low.
- A group leader reaches out to a party leader to run the group’s IE messages by them.
- A group leader has a private meeting with a campaign manager, and afterwards there is a shift in the strategy of the IE work in that race in any way informed by that contact.
What is an Independent Expenditure?
Independent expenditures (IEs) are, essentially, any expenditure for communications that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a specific candidate that are not coordinated with any candidate, campaign, or political party.
Instead of making direct contributions to, or coordinating with, a campaign or political party, a group can decide to work independently of any campaigns or political party when spending money to support or oppose a given candidate. That spending, instead of being treated as a contribution, will be treated as an independent expenditure.
Comparison: Independent vs Coordinated Expenditures
Restrictions: Can't share or learn nonpublic strategic info about electoral plans and activities with the campaign or political party
Limits: None (IE spending is unlimited)
Who Reports: The person or group paying for dissemination of the IE
Restrictions: Can work directly with, and share and learn nonpublic strategic info with, the campaign or political party
Limits: Subject to contribution limits
Who Reports: Typically, the campaign or political party receiving the contribution
Note: coordinated expenditures are treated as contributions for reporting purposes. These expenditures must be reported to the campaign or political party and it is the campaign or political party's responsibility to report any contributions received. However, two major exceptions include in-kind contributions made by any person and any contributions made by PACs that have a contribution account. Super PACs which only engage in independent expenditure activity cannot make contributions to a campaign or political party. Hybrid PACs have both a contribution and a non-contribution account and may make contributions to a campaign or political party using its contribution account. For more info on how to report contributions and coordinated expenditures, see our reporting information pages.
Whether a group decides to coordinate or remain independent may depend on a variety of factors, including: the group's legal structure, their use of Indivisible National's voter contact tools and/or distributed fundraising program, as well as other strategic considerations.
What is an Electioneering Communication?
An electioneering communication (EC) is any broadcast communication - a radio, television, or satellite ad - that:
- mentions a candidate for federal office;
- is publicly distributed within either 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election; and
- is targeted towards the relevant electorate (i.e., broadcast to 50,000 or more people in the candidate's district).
From this, electioneering communications are rare in practice at the federal level. Many states have different standards for what is an electioneering communication, so know your own state’s laws on the subject.
What is Not an Electioneering Communication?
- Any communication not broadcast via radio or television (e.g., printed materials or internet communications);
- Something that appears in a news story, commentary or editorial broadcast by a non-partisan source (i.e., not controlled by a candidate or party);
- A bona fide news story broadcast by a partisan source (i.e., a source controlled by a candidate or party);
- Independent expenditures; and
- Candidate debates or forums (e.g., a televised debate or town hall).
Electioneering Communication vs. Independent Expenditure
If a radio or TV ad uses express language that promotes, attacks, supports, or opposes a specific candidate (e.g., "vote for X", “Smith is for us”) or if the "only reasonable interpretation" is that the ad is promoting one candidate over another, then it will be considered an independent expenditure, not an electioneering communication. Why does it matter? Because the rules for reporting electioneering communications are different than the rules for independent expenditures.
For more info on how to report electioneering communications, click here