Independent Expenditure Disclosure Requirements
Independent expenditures are political communications, such as television or radio advertisements, expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. Unlike contributions and campaign-related expenditures, independent expenditures are not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign. Due to the lack of coordination with candidates, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that independent expenditures do not pose a corruptive threat and cannot be limited like contributions to candidates and campaign-related expenditures, irrespective of who is making the independent expenditure. As a result of the Court’s rulings, an unprecedented surge of independent spending has occurred in recent years. The uptick in independent expenditures likely will continue for the foreseeable future as groups seeking to influence the political process capitalize on their ability to spend unlimited sums independent of a candidate’s campaign. [i]
While states cannot impose dollar limits on independent expenditures, courts have upheld laws requiring persons or groups to disclose independent expenditures on the basis that disclosure offers valuable electoral information to the public. 47 states necessitate some degree of independent expenditure reporting, with Indiana, South Carolina, and New Mexico being the exceptions.
Among states that require independent expenditure reporting, there is considerable variation in reporting requirements. Some 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’s spending has exceeded a specific dollar amount. Most states utilize a combination of these two reporting methods, with the applicable requirements dependent on who is making the independent expenditure.
NCSL has compiled a comprehensive outline of independent expenditure reporting for all 50 states. The chart is available here.
For more information please contact Morgan Cullen at NCSL.
[i] Independent campaign spending for the 2010 federal elections increased fourfold from similar spending conducted in the 2006 federal midterms. Id. at 429. For the 2012 federal elections, outside groups spent over a billion dollars. Trevor Potter & Bryson B. Morgan, The History of Undisclosed Spending in U.S. Elections & How 2012 Became the ‘Dark Money’ Election, 27 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol’y 383, 383 (2013).