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By Austin Graham

NCSL has compiled a 50-state chart summarizing states’ independent expenditure reporting requirements. The chart offers a general overview of people and groups who must report independent expenditures, dollar thresholds triggering reporting, and required filings.

Independent expenditures are political communications, such as television or radio advertisements, expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. Unlike contributions and coordinated expenditures, independent expenditures are made without coordination or consultation with a candidate and his campaign.

In recent years, the amount of independent expenditures in federal and state elections has risen dramatically because of court decisions holding that independent political spending cannot be restricted since it does not pose a corruptive threat to the political process.

While states cannot impose dollar limitations on independent expenditures, courts have upheld laws requiring people or groups to report independent expenditures, ruling  that disclosure provides the public with valuable information about candidates and their financial benefactors.

Disclosure essentially entails two steps. First, people or groups must report their independent expenditures to a designated state agency. Second, the state agency disburses the reported information to the public. 

Forty seven states require some independent expenditure reporting. However, there is significant variation in states’ reporting requirements.

Some states obligate groups making independent expenditures to file continuous reports in accordance with a pre-determined schedule. Other states require reporting based on when a person or group has exceeded a statutory threshold. Most states utilize a combination of these two reporting methods, with the applicable requirements dependent on who is making the independent expenditure.

Austin Graham is a campaign finance intern with NCSL.

 

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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