Analysis of Campaign Finance Laws by State
Campaign finance laws have been put in place to protect our political process from corruption. At the same time, they enable candidates to raise funds for their campaigns and allow funders to support the political candidates of their choice.
Campaign finance laws regulate the source, amounts, and use of contributions in elections, as well as required disclosures. These laws cover individual candidate campaigns, political parties, and donors. They also cover third parties that pay for political advertisements for or against a particular candidate or ballot issue.
What Is a Political Contribution?
A political contribution is:
- A gift
- A loan
- An advance
- A deposit of money
- Payment from a third party
- Forgiveness of a loan
- Payment of a personal expense or service
- Transfer of anything of value (or a contract or agreement to do any of the above)
Contributions may only be accepted to influence the outcome of an election, pay off campaign debt, or to pay for expenses associated with an election challenge.
Who Can Make a Contribution to a Candidate?
The following individuals and entities can make a contribution:
- An individual person: In some states, it matters if that person lives in the state where the candidate will serve in office (see Alaska).
- Political party committees: In some states, political parties can donate an unlimited amount to a political candidate's campaign fund. In other states, political party donations to individual candidates are capped at the same contribution limit of individuals, or it has a different cap.
- Corporate contributors: Five states allow unlimited corporate contributions; 22 states prohibit contributions to candidates. The rest set a limit on corporate contributions.
- Political Action Committees: PACs enable their members to pool their campaign contributions to support a candidate, a ballot initiative, or legislation. Corporations can contribute to a PAC and avoid the restriction on corporate contributions to a political candidate. Thirteen states allow unlimited PAC contributions to a specific candidate; the remainder set a limit.
- Other contributor categories can include unions, nonprofits, associations, Super PACs, and more.
See the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) for additional information on state limits on contributions to candidates. You can also follow pending legislation on campaign finance at the NCSL website page: 2015 to Present Campaign Finance Legislation Database.
Federal Laws That Have Impacted State Campaign Finance Laws
Federal campaign finance laws regulate finances for presidential and congressional campaigns. State campaign finance laws regulate finances for offices like the governor, state legislators, judges, and other state or local candidates. State laws do not need to match federal laws, as we saw above. But sometimes federal court decisions do influence state laws.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that the government was prohibited from restricting independent expenditures from corporations, labor unions, and other associations. It impeded their political communication and violated their First Amendment right to free speech.
After this ruling, some states raised or eliminated their contribution limits for corporations, unions, and associations.
Citizens United also led to the creation of Super PACs – groups that can spend on campaigns, issues, and legislation but not candidates.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission that limiting the total amount an individual can contribute violated that donor's First Amendment right. This ruling trickled down to the state level, and some states changed their rules regarding aggregate contribution limits. Some stopped enforcing limits. Wisconsin saw its existing law struck down in court.
What Do State Campaign Finance Laws Cover?
State campaign finance laws vary, but they typically cover such topics as:
- The requirements for candidacy
- Contribution limits from individuals, corporations, committees, PACs, etc.
- Contributions rules for candidates, candidate committees, political parties, ballot initiatives
- How often candidates and campaigns must report contributions, and what information must be disclosed (see NCLS for state-specific information on disclosure and reporting requirements)
- Public financing and associated limits to soliciting contributions and expenditures.
Campaign Financial Filing Requirements
Serious candidates — those who have filed and received contributions of a designated amount — are required to:
- Appoint a campaign committee: The campaign finance committee form will list all the members and a designated filing agent who is authorized to file reports.
- File a Statement of Economic Interests: This form outlines the candidate's previous year's finances.
Candidates must report their finances to the Secretary of State. The timing of required financial reporting depends upon the amount of contributions a candidate receives and expenditures made.
Reporting could be required annually, monthly, weekly, daily, and/or when candidates receive a major contribution.
Public financing takes two forms: "clean election" programs that offer full funding for a campaign (ME, AZ) and "matching funds" programs that provide a portion of the funds.
Select State Campaign Finance Laws
The following states allow for unlimited contributions for candidates in statewide elections: Alabama (excluding Super PACs), Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia.
Campaign contribution limits can change. Click on the state name to be linked to resources on each state's website that will provide up-to-date dollar amounts and more complete details.
Note: State laws are always changing through legislative, judicial, or other means. While FindLaw works hard to ensure the accuracy of its legal resources, it's a good idea to thoroughly research the law or check with an attorney to make sure you have the most recent information.
Arizona campaign finance law: Individual donations are limited to $5,200 for governor and legislative candidates and $6,450 for local candidates. Corporations and unions are prohibited from donating to candidates but can give an unlimited amount to PACs and to political parties. Arizona offers public financing for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and state legislatures. The Alliance for Justice provides additional Arizona-specific information.
California campaign finance law: $31,000 for gubernatorial races, $7,800 for other statewide candidates, and $4,700 for house and senate candidates per election. Political parties can donate an unlimited amount to a candidate. Corporations, unions, and PACs can donate as much as individuals. “Small contributor committees" can give $31,000, $15,500, and $9,300 respectively. Political parties can donate an unlimited amount to a candidate campaign. Learn more about for California-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Connecticut campaign finance law: $3,500 for gubernatorial races, $1,000 for senate races and $250 for House races, per election for individual donors. Higher limits for political parties, town committees, political communities. Businesses are prohibited. Connecticut offers public financing for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and state legislatures. For candidates accepting public financing, the contribution levels are lower.
Georgia campaign finance law: Donations to candidates are limited to $7,000 for statewide candidates in primary and general elections and $4,100 for statewide candidates in primary and general runoff elections for individuals, PACs, corporations, and party committees. $2,800 for candidates for general assembly, county and municipals offices, and all other elected positions in primary and general elections and $1,500 in runoff elections for individuals, PACs, corporations, and party committees.
There are no limits to the funds that can be contributed to political committees from PACs, independent committees, and political parties. Georgia state representatives and senators cannot seek or accept contributions or pledges to contribute during the legislative session. Click here for Georgia-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Indiana campaign finance law: Unlimited contribution amounts for individual and PAC contributions, partnerships, LLCs and sole proprietorships, unincorporated firms, and not-for-profit organizations for all state candidates. There are financial limits for corporations and labor unions, varying between $2,000 and $5,000.
Iowa campaign finance law: Unlimited individual and PAC contributions for all state candidates. SuperPACs are prohibited from making contributions to candidates, PACs, party committees, and ballot measures. Corporations are prohibited from making contributions to candidates and PACs but can make unlimited contributions to party committees and $750 to ballot measures. Click here for Iowa-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Maryland campaign finance law: $6,000 to one candidate committee in state elections, per four-year cycle, and an unlimited amount to a ballot issue committee, for individual donors. Corporate donations are similar. Maryland offers public financing for candidates for governor and lieutenant governor. Click here for Maryland-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Minnesota campaign finance law: Individual contribution limits range from $2,500 for judicial offices, $2000 for governor/lieutenant governor, $1,500 for attorney general, to $1,000 for senate and house races. PACs can contribute to the same level as individuals. Independent-expenditure-only committee PACs (IEC) and corporations are prohibited from contributing to anything except ballot initiatives and IEC PACs.
Minnesota offers public financing for candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and state legislatures. Click here for Minnesota-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Montana campaign finance law: $710 for governor/lieutenant governor, $360 for other statewide offices, $180 for other public offices for individual donors and PACs. No limits for political committees. Direct contributions prohibited from corporations or unions. Click here for Montana-specific information from the Alliance for Justice (note that contribution amounts were raised in 2019).
Pennsylvania campaign finance law: Unlimited individual, party, corporate, organization, union, and PAC contributions for all statewide and legislative candidates and local candidates, as well as candidate committees. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have their own campaign contribution limits for candidates in primary, general, and special elections. Philadelphia's limits increase every four years. Pittsburgh's campaign finance ordinance sets the contribution limit at the same level as the current limit set by the FED Act. Click here for Pennsylvania-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Texas campaign finance law: Unlimited individual and PAC contributions for governor, statewide candidates, legislative candidates, political committees, and ballot measures. Corporations are prohibited from giving to candidates, although the rules vary depending upon the type of business. Corporations can contribute to ballot measures and ballot measure PACs. The cities of Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have contribution limits for local elections. Counties have no authority to set contribution limits. Click here for Texas-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Virginia campaign finance law: Unlimited individual, PAC, and corporate donations for candidates and committees. During the legislative session, legislators and statewide office-holders may not accept or solicit donations. Click here for Virginia-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Wisconsin campaign finance law: Individual and candidate committees can contribute up to $20,000 for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general, and supreme court; $2,000 for senate candidates and $1,000 for state assembly candidates. PACs can donate significantly higher amounts to candidate campaigns.
Corporations, labor unions, and tribes cannot contribute to candidate committees, PACs, primary campaigns, and legislative campaign committees. They can contribute unlimited funds to independent expenditure committees and referendum committees.
For local offices, contribution limits vary depending on the population of the district. Click here for Wisconsin-specific information from the Alliance for Justice.
Campaign Laws Change - Stay Informed
Campaign finance laws change, sometimes yearly. If you are seeking office, or wish to make a contribution to a candidate's campaign, but have concerns about complying with your state's campaign finance requirements, talk to an election law attorney in your community who can explain your rights.