Campaign Contribution Limits: Overview

10/4/2019

House built of money

In the 2014 election cycle, candidates for state office across the country raise over three billion dollars in campaign contributions--and since then the number has increased further. This number was only attained by reaching out to a variety of sources, such as state political parties, corporations, unions, political action committees, and individuals.

To help ensure that these groups have no corruptive influence on election and campaigns, many states impose contribution limits on candidates, dictating how much any one entity can give a campaign

This page provides an overview of the types of restrictions states place on contribution limits, and gives examples of certain statutory restrictions.  For information on other types of campaign finance restrictions, please visit our pages on disclosure and public financing of elections.

Individual Contribution Limits

Only eleven states (Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Virginia) impose no contribution limits on individual donors. The other 39 states restrict the amount of money that any one individual can contribute to a state campaign. These limits are typically dependent upon the office the candidate seeks. For example, Connecticut restricts individual spending to $1,000 for a candidate in a state senate race and $250 for a candidate for a state house seat.

Using data from the 2019-2020 election cycle, this chart shows the wide range of contribution limits across states:

 

Governor

State Senate

State House

National Average

$6,126

$2,947

$2,539

National Median

$4,000

$2,000

$1,600

Highest Limit

$47,100 (New York)

$13,292 (Ohio)

$13,292 (Ohio)

Lowest Limit

$500 (Alaska)

$180 (Montana)

$180 (Montana)

 

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 134 S.Ct. 1434 (2014), limits on the total amount of money an individual can contribute during an election cycle violate the First Amendment, and are therefore unconstitutional. McCutcheon dealt with federal election spending, but the ruling trickled down to state statutes dealing with aggregate contribution limits. Before the ruling, nine states imposed aggregate contribution limits on the overall amount individuals and groups could contribute to candidates.

Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York’s election law agencies have announced they will no longer enforce their states’ aggregate contribution limits, and Wisconsin’s was struck down by the courts in response to McCutcheon. While limitations on the amount of money an individual can contribute to a specific campaign can remain in place, states more than likely will not be able to impose an aggregate limit on campaign contributions from individuals.

For a complete list of contribution limits from individuals, please see NCSL’s webpage on State Limits on Contributions to Candidates.

State Party Contribution Limits

19 states impose no restrictions on the ability of state party committees to contribute money to a candidate’s campaign. Illinois, Kansas, New Jersey, and New York allow state parties to donate unlimited sums if the candidate meets certain qualifications, such as running uncontested or agreeing by certain spending limits. The remaining 27 states have some sort of restriction on funds from political parties, falling into two camps. Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico and West Virginia require parties to follow the same contribution limits established for individuals. The other 20 states outline separate limits for political parties.

NCSL’s webpage on State Limits on Contributions to Candidates provides further information on contribution limits for state political parties.

Corporation Contribution Limits

22 states completely prohibit corporations from contributing to political campaigns. Another five—Alabama, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah and Virginia—allow corporations to contribute an unlimited amount of money to state campaigns. Of the remaining 23 states, 19 impose the same restrictions on corporation contributions as they do for individual contributions. The other four set different limits.

Again, please refer to NCSL’s webpage on  State Limits on Contributions to Candidates for more information on corporate contribution limits.

Political Action Committee Contribution Limits

PACs, or political action committees, are organizations that pool campaign contributions from its members to support or oppose candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation. Oftentimes formed in support of a specific candidate or ballot measure, PACs represent one way a corporation can contribute to a candidate’s campaign without violating restrictions on corporate influence in elections. If a corporation desired to form a PAC, pooling contributions from its employees or outside sources into a distinct bank account, the PAC can spend money to influence elections in a way the corporation cannot by itself. 13 states allow PACs to contribute unlimited amounts of money to state campaigns.

The remaining 37 either impose the same limitations as those for individuals or provide a separate contribution limit. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money on broadcasts and communications related to an election, provided they act independently of any one candidate. (Follow this link to learn more about campaign finance and the Supreme Court.)

To see current and pending legislation dealing with campaign finance, please visit the 2015 to Present Campaign Finance Legislation Database, which hosts bill dealing with contribution limits.

Additional Resources

About This Project

The content for this webpage was created by Brian Cruikshank from William and Mary Law School, in coordination with NCSL's staff.

If you don't find the information you need, please contact our elections team at 303-364-7700 or elections-info@ncsl.org. NCSL staff can do specialized searches for legislators and legislative staff.