Election, campaign, and political law covers various rules and regulations, including:
- Campaign finance and advertising
- Procedural voting requirements
- Government ethics
Unless you're running for public office or involved in a political campaign, you probably won't need the help of an attorney specializing in this area. But voting rights affect virtually all of us. Whether we are trying to vote or wish to contribute to a political campaign, it's important to understand election laws.
Running for Office
To be part of the political process, there are many rules you need to follow. Most candidates are members of organized political parties. But some decide to run as independent candidates.
No matter what type of campaign, you must comply with all ethics laws and reporting requirements for political campaigns. These rules ensure all candidates report their campaign contributions and expenditures. The results are public information.
If you're considering running for office, speaking with an attorney familiar with the election and campaign process may be helpful.
Establishing Political Organizations
If you want to start your own political party or other political organization, there are many steps that you need to take. It would be smart to hire an attorney who knows about the political process to help you start your organization, decide on your mission statement, and hire important staff such as a communications director. You will definitely want a financial manager who can keep track of campaign contributions and audits.
Some states allow citizens to bring issues straight to the voters. Citizen ballot initiatives usually need a certain number of signatures for an issue to appear on the ballot or for a state constitution to be amended.
If you have an issue you're passionate about, consider organizing a group of people to bring it to the public. An attorney specializing in the political process could help.
Lobbyists are people who advocate for elected officials to pay attention to a certain issue or cause. Most lobbyists are located in Washington, D.C., but many also work with state legislatures in places like New York.
Lobbyists are governed by the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. The Act requires lobbyists to register with Congress and report their activities.
Lobbyists can be employed by a specific group like a non-profit or may be part of political action committees (PACs). Some PACs advocate for a specific party or candidate. These have contribution limitations.
There are also Super PACs which have no contribution limits but are only permitted to provide financial support for advertising. All types of PACs must file with the Federal Election Commission due to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.
No matter the political activity, attorneys who know about lobbying, FEC, and campaign finance laws will be extremely helpful to lobbying groups. They can also help you comply with the gift rules for members of Congress and independent expenditures.
Independent expenditures are contributions to a candidate that are not made through the candidate or their political party. For example, a group might create a campaign ad advocating for or against electing a certain candidate.
Protecting Voting Rights
State governments operate elections for federal offices (such as the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Presidency) as well as state races. For example, in some states, individuals with a felony conviction aren't allowed to vote. But in other states, they can. Check your local state laws for more information.
The federal government has limited protections for voters. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was meant to curb some states' systematic exclusion of minority voters. But, many of the Act's protections were eliminated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.
For example, the Voting Rights Act originally required states with a history of voter suppression to seek federal approval before enacting changes to voting laws. But that requirement is no longer in place.
More recent challenges to voting laws focus on things like voter I.D. rules and redistricting (redrawing of voting districts). There's significant data to suggest that photo I.D. requirements can contribute to voter suppression. But many state laws have been passed requiring voters to show an ID in order to vote.
When state legislatures create voting districts that seem to benefit certain political parties or election campaigns, they may face challenges for illegal gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court ruling in Allen v. Milligan (2023) agreed that redistricting in Alabama violated the Voting Rights Act. But the Supreme Court ruling in Benisek v. Lamone (2018) found a challenge to redistricting in Maryland did not have merit.
In general, state legislatures can draw district boundaries to benefit one political party or another. But redistricting based on other factors, such as race, is not allowed.
If you believe your voting rights have been violated, contact your secretary of state's office. You may also want to meet with a civil rights attorney or a legal aid clinic to discuss your situation.
Get Advice on Getting Involved
Getting involved in the political process can be an important part of being a citizen. But there are a lot of rules that need to be followed. Search FindLaw's directory of election, campaign, and political law attorneys to find an attorney near you who can help.
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