This page is a part of NCSL’s comprehensive campaign finance portfolio. For related resources, visit the Campaign Finance Overview.
Public financing of campaigns, in which the government provides financial support to candidates running for office, remains the least-used method of regulating money in elections, partly due to the result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Buckley v. Valeo (1976). In that decision, the court struck down a provision of the Federal Election Act of 1971 mandating public financing for presidential elections.
Based on that decision, state public financing programs must be optional for candidates. The financial advantages of private fundraising frequently prompt candidates to opt out of public financing programs, which often include campaign to spending limits. Candidates who opt not to use public funds can raise funds without having to abide by state limits.
For states that elect to provide a public financing option, money is available for either individual candidates or political parties. This page provides information on both options.
Public Financing for Candidates
Thirteen states provide some form of statewide public financing option for candidates. Each of these plans require a candidate who accepts public money for their campaign to promise to limit both how much the candidate spends on the election and how much they receive in donations from any one group or individual.
These options are frequently limited, applying only to candidates running for specified offices.
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Types of Public Financing Programs
The two main types of state programs for public financing are the clean elections programs and programs that provide a candidate with matching funds for each qualifying contribution they receive. The “clean election states” offer full funding for the campaign; the matching funds programs provide a candidate with a portion of the funds needed to run the campaign.
Clean Elections Programs
In the clean elections programs, offered in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, candidates are encouraged to collect small contributions (no less than $5) from a number of individuals (depending on the position sought) to demonstrate they have enough public support to warrant the public funding of their campaign. In return, the state gives the candidate a sum of money equal to the expenditure limit set for the election.
For example, a candidate for state legislative office in Arizona must raise $5 contributions from at least 200 people in order to qualify for the program. In return, the state provides the candidate with public money in an amount equal to the expenditure limit. In the 2022 election, the expenditure limit for gubernatorial candidates was $1,281,851, and the limit for legislative positions was $25,940.
The program is funded through a 10% surcharge on all civil penalties and criminal fees, civil penalties paid by the candidates, and the qualifying contributions the candidate raised.
Matching Funds Programs
The other type of public financing program, offered in states such as Florida and Hawaii, provide a certain amount of matching funds for candidates. In Hawaii, candidates are encouraged to limit their contributions and expenditures to an amount set by the legislature. For the 2024 election, the expenditure limit for the general election is $2,153,395. A candidate who participates in the matching funds program is eligible to receive 10% of this limit in public funds, or $215,340. A candidate must first receive $100,000 in qualifying contributions during the primary season for the state to provide a matching $100,000 during the general election. The candidate can then raise an additional $115,340 in qualifying contributions that the state will match, for a total of $319,442. The candidate can then raise additional money from other sources, like PACs, parties, or individuals, to reach the expenditure limit of $2,153,395.
These programs are funded through a tax return checkoff, whereby citizens choose whether they want to contribute $3 from their taxes to the Hawaii Election Campaign Fund.
The map below shows the states that have a public financing system in place, and which kind is available.
Public Financing for Parties
Some states provide public money for political parties to help fund conventions and other party activities such as voter registration drives. As of February 2023, Alabama (§ 40-18-146), Arizona (§ 43-612), Minnesota (§ 10A.31,3a), New Mexico (§ 7-2-31), Rhode Island (§ 44-30-2 (d)), and Utah (§ 59-10-1311) allow taxpayers to check a box on their return indicating a desire to contribute to the state’s political parties. The amounts range from $1 to $25.
Florida (Fla. Stat. 99.103) remits to political parties most of the candidate filing fees collected from that party, with 15% reserved for the state’s general fund.
Iowa statute I.C.A. § 68A.601 provides an example of a tax check-off plan for political parties, whereby any person whose tax liability for the year is $1.50 or more can send $1.50 to the Iowa election campaign fund when they submit their tax return.
If you don't find the information you need, please contact our elections team at 303-364-7700 or email NCSL using the contact form at left. NCSL staff can do specialized research for legislators and legislative staff.