Campaign contributions and independent expenditures: legalities and limitations

The following chart delineates the restrictions afforded under the U.S. Constitution, federal statute, and Massachusetts statute with regard to individuals’ election-related spending.

 Campaign contributions by individualsIndependent expenditures by individualsIndividuals' contributions to Independent Expenditure-Only Committees (SuperPACs)Individuals' contributions to PACs making campaign contributions
Federal Constitutional Case LawUnder Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), campaign contributions by individuals may be limited.Under Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), independent expenditures by individuals may NOT be limited.Under SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, which relied upon the holding in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, individuals' contributions to independent expenditure-only committees may NOT be limited. Individuals' contributions to PACS making campaign contributions may be limited. See Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).
Federal Campaign Finance LawLimited to $2,500/federal candidate/election.Unlimited (under Buckley v. Valeo).Unlimited (under SpeechNow.org v. FEC).Limited to $5,000/year.
Massachusetts Campaign Finance LawLimited to $500/candidate/year.

Note: Lobbyists are limited to $200/candidate/year. Individuals under the age of 18 have an aggregate contribution limit of $25 per year. A candidate may contribute an unlimited number of dollars to his or her own campaign- although the amount he or she may loan depends on the office sought. Individuals who are applicants or key employees of the gaming commission are also limited in their contributions to PACs and candidates.
Unlimited (under Buckley v. Valeo).Unlimited (under SpeechNow.org v. FEC).Limited to $500/year.

This next chart delineates the restrictions afforded under the U.S. Constitution, federal statute, and Massachusetts statute with regard to corporations election-related spending.

 Campaign contributions by business corporationsIndependent expenditures by business corporationsBusiness corporations' contributions to Independent Expenditure-Only Committees (SuperPACs)Business corporations' contributions to PACs making campaign contributions
Federal Constitutional Case LawUnder Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), campaign contributions by corporations may be limited.Under Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, independent expenditures by corporations may NOT be limited.Under SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, which relied upon the holding in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, contributions to independent expenditure-only committees may NOT be limited. Under Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), corporate contributions to PACS making campaign contributions may be limited.
Federal Campaign Finance LawProhibited.Unlimited (under Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission).Unlimited (under SpeechNow.org, in conjunction with Citizens United).Prohibited.
Massachusetts Campaign Finance LawProhibited.

Note: contributions to ballot question committees, which may call themselves PACs, are not prohibited.
Unlimited (under Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission).Unlimited (under SpeechNow.org, in conjunction with Citizens United).Prohibited.

In the above chart, I specify “business corporation” because Massachusetts allows non-profit corporations to contribute up to $15,000 per year or up to 10% of gross revenues to campaigns.

These charts help illustrate what has changed- and what has remained the same- since Citizens United was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Federal Election Commission has also created a chart on contribution limits in federal elections, which can be accessed here:  http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/contriblimits.shtml.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I have overlooked any nuance in my analysis.

Anne Johnson
Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

Published by Anne Johnson Landry

Anne works as Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor to Senator Brownsberger.