Campaign Finance Regulation: State Comparisons

9/23/2022

New Mexico Capital Building

Whether, and how, states regulate campaign finance varies greatly. This webpage provides a national overview of options in the Introduction and Part I, which addresses the legal, legislative and financial landscape for policymaking in this area. Part II compares New Mexico’s existing policies to those of the rest of the nation.

Click on the arrows for each tab below to open. If you would like additional information, please reach out to elections-info@ncsl.org.

Introduction

Campaign finance regulation is sometimes cited as the death knell of democracy—money is free speech, and the First Amendment prohibits abridging it. When laws are written to regulate the flow of money in politics, free speech is damaged and, it follows, so is democracy. (Or so some say.)

The lack of regulation of campaign finance is also sometimes cited as the death knell of democracy—money is by no means distributed equally among the electorate, and those who have money and give it to express their opinions, have more political power than those who don’t. (Or so some others say.)

This conundrum was apparent even before the colonies were federated. After George Washington bought hard cider for friends in 1757, the Virginia House of Burgesses—the Colonial legislature—enacted a law that prohibited candidates from giving voters refreshments or gifts—most likely the first such regulation ever.

More than two centuries later, states aren’t simply weighing the regulatory burden on candidates, donors and the state (which must create an enforcement regimen) and taking a “yes, we want regulation” or “no, we don’t want regulation” stance. Instead, states can choose from a menu of regulatory options when it comes to the flow of money in campaigns, and all states regulate it to some extent. The most common options include limiting contributions; requiring donor disclosure or other kinds of disclosure; and offering public financing for candidates, although this last option is much less common than the other two.

No matter what theoretical perspective is governing, states must work within legal parameters, and it’s not always easy to divine what those are. (Hence, many “election” attorneys are really campaign finance attorneys.)

Even within the three big options, lots of smaller, dollar-based decisions pertain: What should the limit on contributions be? How high should a threshold be to trigger a disclosure requirement? How generous should a public finance program be? Should any of these figures be pegged to inflation? The questions go on and on. And on.

This report provides no answers to those questions. Instead, it offers legislators—who are the decision-makers when it comes to state regulation of campaign finance and political speech—a broad overview of the policymaking landscape and a deep look at the real-world choices states can make, and have made.

Part I is a big-picture survey of the legal, legislative and financial landscapes in which campaign finance regulation decisions are made.

Part II provides a quantifiable look at existing state laws. In other words, it can serve as a “menu” of legislative choices states can make based on actions other states have taken.

Part One: Legal Landscape

Above all else, states must develop policy within legal parameters to ensure that the free speech guardrail is not breached by any choices relating to campaign finance.

That said, the overarching authority is the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment is the key section: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” That goes for states, too. In brief, political money is a form of speech, so to restrict how money flows is to restrict speech. The U.S. Supreme Court has had much to say about that.

In the first modern campaign finance case, Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the Supreme Court responded to the post-Watergate reform known as the Federal Election Campaign Act. In brief, the court applied the First Amendment’s free speech protections to contribution limits, expenditure limits and mandatory public financing programs. The court held that contribution limits are constitutional given the government’s interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption, or the appearance of corruption, but that many limits on expenditures are not constitutional. Public financing is permissible, so long as participation is voluntary.

Since Buckley, a series of cases has continued a trend in one direction: toward less regulation while still upholding state contribution limits. Two cases warrant specific mention.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the court stated, “Political speech is indispensable to decision-making in a democracy,” and struck down contribution limits for corporations, unions and political action committees that make political expenditures independent from candidates. The court was clear that, “The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but may not suppress speech altogether.”

Most recently, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (2014), the court held that states cannot place limits on aggregate contributions (the total of all contributions to all candidates) by individuals or groups. Existing limits on per-candidate contributions were not addressed and thus not changed.

Today, contribution limits are possible but can be challenged if they are set so low that, in effect, they “prevent candidates from amassing the resources necessary for effective campaign advocacy” (Randall v. Sorrell, 2006).

Given constitutional limits on contribution restrictions, and a constitutional prohibition on expenditure limits, states interested in regulating campaign finance are left with one major tool: increasing disclosure requirements. This is a thicket of its own: For donors to candidates, what information beyond name and amount must be disclosed—the name and address of the employer, for instance? What about donors to political parties? Or to independent groups that do not coordinate with candidates and thus don’t present a coercion concern? Or donors to nonprofits that make political contributions within the law? Even if free speech concerns are met, what burden on the state is added to regulate these laws?

Legislative Landscape

Legislators, of course, set policy on campaign finance regulation. (They also live by it, when wearing their candidate hats.) Every year, approximately 700 bills on campaign finance regulation are introduced across the nation, with an average of 80 enactments. Primarily these address the most common three ways to statutorily regulate money in politics:

Contribution limits: Restricting contributions to candidates is now of limited legislative interest, unlike a decade ago, partly because money flows around limits, as donors find ways to contribute to entities that do not have limits, such as political action committees, independent expenditure committees and 501(c) entities. Much of the legislation is in states that have limits, and bills merely adjust the limits. In the 40 states that do have limits on contributions to legislative candidates, the range is from $180 (Montana) to $13,704 (Ohio), with an average of $2,848 per election.

Disclosure requirements: Bills relating to disclosure are becoming more common and more complex. They may address donor reporting requirements or reporting by political action committees on expenditures; the threshold for triggering a disclosure requirement; and may extend requirements to new entities or actions. Disclosure requirements account for a third of all campaign finance legislation over the last six years. All 50 states have some form of disclosure requirements for contributions and expenditures.

Public financing: The topic is of interest primarily in the 14 states that have public financing, or “clean elections,” laws. Per the Buckley v. Valeo decision, participation in the programs is optional. Connecticut was the most recent state to adopt such a program; it went live in 2008.

Beyond the evergreen topics above, recent legislative action has expanded to newer areas:

  • Digital political communications take an ever-larger share of political advertising money, and states are responding by including them in their definitions of political advertising or by adding disclaimer requirements for digital political ads. The same regulations that work in traditional media don’t work as well for digital ads. Political candidates and other ad buyers spent $1.3 billion on digital political ads in the 2020 election cycle—over three times more than in 2016. Since 2018, 11 states have introduced 24 bills related to digital or online ads and platforms, with five enactments.
  • The use of campaign funds engenders lots of legislation. Generally, using funds for campaign-related expenses is permitted; using them for personal reasons is not. Since 2018, 15 states have added child care as a permissible use of campaign funds.
  • Foreign (and even out-of-state) contributions have drawn legislative attention, especially in small states where outsiders might have an outsize impact on candidates or ballot measures. The Federal Elections Campaign Act prohibits foreign nationals from making contributions in U.S. elections; states may go above this floor. Nine states have enacted such laws since 2017.
  • Reporting requirements and enforcement mechanisms change frequently as well. On reporting, the trend is to ask for more reports as the election draws near and to require electronic reporting; on enforcement, penalties are often set based on the size of the violation and are generally increasing.
  • Regulation of campaign contributions made with cryptocurrencies began when the Federal Election Commission first allowed such contributions to candidates in 2014. Since then, seven states have introduced legislation, with three enactments to approve cryptocurrency contributions (ArizonaTennessee and Washington). Three others have done so through administrative approval (ColoradoMontana and Ohio); and Louisiana in 2022 created a task force to study the issue.

Details on all bills since 2015 can be found in NCSL’s Campaign Finance Database.

Financial Landscape

The cost of running for a state legislative seat has risen dramatically over the last 20 years, especially so in the last 10 years. Gone are the days when a person could mount a winning campaign by setting aside $1,500 from their personal funds, printing flyers and then knocking on doors.

Nationwide, in 2000, $639 million ($958 million in 2020 dollars) was contributed to candidate campaigns for state legislative races, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in U.S. politics. In 2012, the amount was over $1 billion, and in 2020, it had risen to $1.3 billion. (The figures are for presidential election years only.)

Per-candidate numbers tell the same story. On average, a legislative candidate raised $50,531 in 2000, $74,734 in 2012 and $100,071 in 2020.

Averages only go so far. Still, even when adjusting for inflation, the cost of running for office just keeps going up. Other factors include:

  • The number of constituents per district. A New Hampshire state representative had 3,500 constituents last decade; at the other end of the scale, California senators represented well over 900,000 people each.
  • The media market. If the local media market is shared across state lines, advertising costs rise.
  • District competitiveness. The more competitive the district, the more it costs to run there.
  • National interest. Widespread attention to the outcomes can lead to deep-pocket infusions of funding from national parties or groups. National attention to the power wielded by state legislatures has grown over the last 10 years, leading to an influx of national money. That is at least in part responsible for skyrocketing campaign costs.
  • Stability of the state’s political culture. Oklahoma is deeply Republican, Hawaii is deeply Democratic; other places are prone to change.

Impact of Campaign Finance Regulation

One might assume that a huge increase in money in state politics would lead to a huge increase in regulation. That is simply not the case. One reason is that the legal avenues for regulation are narrow, given that free speech is tantamount.

Another explanation may be that it is hard to show a correlation, much less causation, between regulation and a change in outcomes. So many factors go into success or failure in a campaign besides just how much is spent:

  • The candidate’s personal attributes and history, especially whether he or she is an incumbent.
  • A district’s political tilt, which, if heavily weighted to one party, makes the outcome unlikely to change, no matter how much money the other side puts in.
  • Changing demographics, which may or may not lead to changing political leanings, in that political preferences are not immutable for any person or group.
  • The national political scene; it used to be “all politics is local,” but that is less true now.

There isn’t much evidence, including academic studies, as to the effect campaign finance regulation has, possibly because it is so hard to parse out the many factors. That said, the 2020 report “Do Campaign Finance Reforms Insulate Incumbents from Competition: New Evidence from State Legislative Elections,” from University of Missouri political scientists, indicates that campaign contribution limits and partial public funding have “little impact on incumbent reelection prospects.” The report posits that limits on political spending sometimes have the unintended effect of making races less competitive.

In fact, conservative analysts are skeptical that regulation is effective at limiting corruption—the ostensible goal of regulation—and say that there is no proof that it does. In the report “Money’s Not Enough: The Stories Behind 2020 U.S. House Primary Money-Upsets,” by Nathan Maxwell for the Institute for Free Speech, these two excerpts, one from the introduction and one from the conclusion, make the case:

Introduction: “As the 2022 midterm elections approach, we’ll no doubt see media pundits aiming to predict who will win based on how much money each candidate has behind them. Proponents of intense regulation on campaign spending have long touted a supposedly causal effect between money and electoral success as justification. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the higher-spending candidate won 87.71% of the U.S. House races in 2020. On its face, this appears to support the notion that money determines who earns political office. But figures like these tend to obfuscate more than inform about the role of money in campaigns.”

Conclusion: “In the end, only one thing wins elections and that’s earning the most votes. The lessons we learn from this subset of 2020 House primaries demonstrate that while money can help make you a known candidate, it can’t make you a winning one. As we approach the 2022 midterms, and inevitably see the media exploit election spending for cheap headlines, we’ll know what those figures actually teach us—and what they don’t.”

More reform-oriented analysts take it for granted that more regulation equals less corruption and fairer elections. The Campaign Legal Center puts it clearly on its Campaign Finance webpage:

The dependence of political candidates on wealthy special interests is a serious flaw in our political system, and makes elected officials responsive to their large donors rather than to the public. The tremendous power of special interest money in politics often drowns out the voice of everyday Americans, threatens our First Amendment freedoms, and erodes the foundations of our entire democracy. To restore fairness to our political system, CLC advocates for passing and enforcing strong campaign finance reforms that help guarantee a democracy responsive to the people.

These reform solutions include placing reasonable limits on funding of campaigns, complete transparency of campaign spending and public financing of elections. CLC helps enact such policies at the state, local and federal levels, and works to ensure that the Federal Election Commission enforces current campaign finance laws. CLC also defends laws that promote the First Amendment’s guarantee that every American has the ability to participate in the democratic process.

Where does all this leave states? Hiring attorneys, yes. States can model their laws after federal laws—laws that apply to federal candidates only—but there is no expectation or common practice of doing so. Instead, legislative options are most likely to be found in the work done in other states. For that, please go to Part II.

Part Two: Campaign Finance Policies State Comparisons

While academics, advocates and attorneys spend time dissecting, debating and describing the role of money in politics, it is state legislators who set state policy on campaign finance regulation. While regulatory approaches can be seen through a theoretical lens, they are also an aggregation of state choices on many small questions.

Part II reviews 24 policy choices that fall into the following categories: 

Contribution Limits to Candidates

Contribution Limits to Political Action Committees

Disclosure Requirements

Coordination Laws or Rules

Public Financing for Campaigns

Restrictions on the Use of Campaign Funds

Campaign Finance Reporting and Enforcement Requirements

For more information on the sources of the data cited below, please contact NCSL’s elections team (elections-info@ncsl.org).

Contribution Limits to Candidates

Some states have limits on financial contributions to candidates. These vary according to the source of the contribution (individuals, political action committees, corporations and unions) and the office the candidate is seeking. Additionally, in some states, the laws restricting contributions made during a legislative session differ from those addressing contributions made outside that window or on foreign contributions.

 What are the limits for individuals giving to candidates?

  • Contribution limits for individuals giving to candidates vary by state. Eleven states do not limit the contributions from individuals to candidates at all and the limits in the states that impose them range from $180 per candidate in Montana to $22,600 per candidate in New York. Most states impose limits of about $1,000-$5,000 per candidate. Overall, contribution limits for statewide candidates are higher than those for state legislative candidates. Two states allow for higher contribution limits from individual donors when the candidates agree to spending limits.

What are the limits for political action committees giving to candidates?

  • Limits for PACs follow a similar pattern to limits from individuals in that they vary by state. Ten states do not limit contributions to candidates from PACs at all, and three states permit unlimited contributions, with certain restrictions. Eighteen states use the same contribution limits for PACs as they use for individual contributions. Overall, contribution limits from PACs range from $180 to $59,900. Some states set limits based on committee type (small-contributor committees, big PACs, mega PACs, etc.).

What are the limits for corporations giving to candidates?

  • Contributions from corporations are much more strictly limited than contributions from individuals or PACs. Five states do not limit contributions from corporations to candidates at all, and 22 states completely prohibit them. Eighteen states[10] have the same limits for corporate contributions as they do for individual contributions. Four states have other limits, and Washington places individual limits on in-state corporations and prohibits outside corporate contributions. 

What are the limits for unions giving to candidates?

  • Contribution limits for unions are similar to those for corporations. Seven states do not limit contributions from labor unions, and two states prohibit them entirely. Nineteen states impose the same limits on union contributions as they do on individual contributions. Three states have other limits, and Washington places individual limits on in-state corporations and prohibits contributions from unions with fewer than 10 members residing in the state.

Source: State Limits on Contributions to Candidates 2020-2021

Are there restrictions on contributions to candidates during legislative sessions?

  • Twenty-nine states have restrictions on giving and receiving campaign contributions during legislative sessions. Fifteen states prohibit receiving or soliciting contributions during session, while 14 states prohibit only lobbyist contributions during session.

What states address foreign political contributions in statute?

  • Twenty-three states have regulations relating to foreign or out-of-state contributions. In all 23, contributions from foreign nationals are banned outright; in 12 states, contributions from foreign corporations are also banned. Some states have exceptions for contributions from foreign-owned, domestic corporations.

Do states address cryptocurrency as a medium for political contributions in statute?

The use of cryptocurrency for making political contributions is an emerging area of legislative interest. Most states have no regulations on cryptocurrency, although the Federal Election Commission began permitting cryptocurrency contributions to federal campaigns in 2014. 

  • Fourteen states have some sort of regulation regarding cryptocurrency or digital currency contributions. Six states have banned cryptocurrency campaign contributions entirely. Three states have statutes that expressly allow cryptocurrency contributions, and three states have administratively approved its use. Georgia and Illinois allow candidates to accept cryptocurrency, but no specific laws or rules have been adopted. Colorado and Washington limit cryptocurrency contributions to $100 per cycle per candidate; Georgia and Montana require that cryptocurrency contributions be converted to U.S. dollars immediately to ensure they do not exceed the legal limit.

Contributions to Political Action Committees

Political action committees are subject to different contribution limitations than candidates. Like limits on contributions to candidates, limits on contributions to PACs vary depending on the source of the contribution.

What limits, if any, do states set on individual contributions to PACs?

  • Twenty-seven states have no limit what an individual can contribute to a PAC. Other states typically limit individual contributions to PACs to between $1,000 and $10,000, with a few outliers: Colorado caps individual contributions at $625, Massachusetts at $500 and Louisiana at $100,000.

What limits, if any, do states set on corporate or union contributions to PACSs?

  • States are more varied in their treatment of corporate and union contributions to PACs than in their treatment of individual contributions to the groups. While 17 states have a complete ban on corporate and union contributions to PACs, 14 states allow those entities to make unlimited contributions. Nine states impose the same limits on contributions from corporations and unions as they do on donations from individuals. Two states have partial bans, where direct contributions from a corporation or union are prohibited or capped, but the state allows administrative costs to be covered by a union or corporation. Iowa prohibits corporate contributions and allows unions unlimited contributions. The remaining seven states have limits ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, with Illinois ($20,000) and Louisiana ($100,000 in a four-year period) being outliers. 

What limits, if any, do states set on political party contributions to political action committees? 

  • Thirty states do not limit contributions from political parties to PACs. In 12 states the contribution limits for political parties to PACs are the same as for individuals to PACs. Two statesrohibit contributions from political parties to PACs. New Jersey applies the same limits to national party committees as it does to individuals, but state, county and other party committees’ donations are unlimited. All other states set a limit between $1,000 and $20,000.

What limits, if any, do states set on PAC-to-PAC funds transfers?

  • Twenty-seven states have no limits on transfers between PACs. Fourteen states limit transfers, or contributions, between PACs at the same dollar amount as contributions from individuals. Two states prohibit transfers between PACs entirely. Michigan prohibits a political or independent committee, established as a separate segregated fund, from soliciting or accepting contributions from another PAC; otherwise, contributions are unlimited. Six states have limits on transfers between PACs, ranging from $500 to $50,000.

Disclosure Requirements

While not all states set limits on campaign or other political contributions, all have some level of requirement that information relating to political contributions or political expenditures be disclosed.  The variations are many; below we address disclosure requirements for candidates, independent expenditure groups and political action committees.

What are disclosure requirements for contributions to candidate campaigns?

  • Twenty-five states have no disclosure threshold for contributions or expenditures on candidate campaigns; everything must be reported in these states. The other states have thresholds that range from $100 to $5,000.

Which states have disclosure requirements for independent expenditures and what is the threshold? 

  • Independent expenditures are those made to support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure—but are done without coordination with the campaign for or against the candidate or measure. Forty-seven states have disclosure requirements for independent expenditures with a reporting threshold ranging from $100 in seven states to $25,000 in Georgia. Seven states also have multiple thresholds for disclosure. New York, for instance, has a $1,000 threshold for committee contributions, a $5,000 threshold for committee expenditures, a $500 threshold for digital ads, and no threshold for independent expenditures made by individuals (but those must be reported). Three states do not define independent expenditures and therefore do not have disclosure thresholds.

Who is required to report independent expenditures?

  • Most states have similar requirements on who must report independent expenditures. Individuals, corporations and groups such as political action committees must report in nearly every state, although nine states do not require reports from individuals.

What types of reports on independent expenditures are required? When are reports due?

  • Reporting varies depending on whether the expenditure is made by a committee or a non-committee entity. Fifteen states distinguish between committee and non-committee reports; committee reports are typically due quarterly or annually and include a pre- and postelection reporting requirement. Non-committee reports are typically triggered by the date and amount of the expenditures (i.e., a report may be due within seven days if the expenditure meets the reporting threshold).
  • States that do not break out reporting by committee versus non-committee groups typically follow a periodic reporting schedule. Tennessee, for instance, requires semiannual reports during nonelection years, quarterly reports during election years, and a pre-primary and pre-general election statement. Seventeen states have periodic reporting schedules. Finally, some states simply require a report for every expenditure over a dollar threshold—Virginia requires a disclosure report within 24 hours of making any expenditure over $1,000 in a statewide election, or over $200 for any other election or when the expenditure is disseminated, whichever is first. In addition to their general reporting rules, many states also have a special-circumstance reporting rule that is triggered in the run-up to an election. For example, Colorado requires a report to be made within 48 hours if an expenditure over $1,000 is made within 30 days of an election. Twenty-six states have similar special-circumstance rules.

Which states have disclosure requirements for political action committees and what is the threshold?

  • All 50 states require political committees or political action committees to disclosure campaign-related contributions and expenditures if the state’s reporting threshold is met. Twelve states have no disclosure threshold for PACs regarding contributions or expenditures; everything must be reported in these states. The other states have reporting thresholds that range from $100 to $5,000, with Georgia being an outlier at $25,000.

Coordination Laws or Rules

Coordination laws or rules are used by states to determine when a communication by individuals or groups is coordinated with an elected official or candidate. Coordinated communications are generally treated as campaign in-kind contributions and are subject to contribution limits and disclosure and reporting requirements.

The purpose of coordination rules is to preserve a distinct division between candidates and others paying for communications, so individuals and groups don’t circumvent campaign finance laws. Individuals or groups are permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on independent expenditures, so long as it’s not coordinated with a candidate or political committee.

What states have coordination definitions?

  • Fourteen states define coordination in their statutes or rules and five do so in their independent expenditure definitions or statutes. Twenty-nine states mention coordination in their independent expenditures or expenditure definitions, but do not specifically define coordination. Two states do not mention coordination at all in their statutes.

Public Financing for Campaigns

Some states offer public financing programs for candidates, often referred to as “clean elections” or “matching funds” programs. The types of public funding and who has access to the funds varies by state, although participation is always optional.

What states offer public financing programs for campaigns?

  • Fourteen states offer some type of public financing for elections. Four of them offer full public funding; the other 10 offer partial coverage. States also vary by who can receive public funding: Five states provide funding for state legislative offices, 12 states provide it for gubernatorial offices, and two states provide it for state supreme court justices, with some overlap. To qualify for public funding, candidates must meet a threshold number of contributions in each state, ranging from 15 to 1,500 unique contributions; in some states they must meet a required dollar contribution amount or a contribution from a certain percentage of voters in the state.

For more information, visit Public Financing of Campaigns: An Overview.

Restrictions on the Use of Campaign Funds

Most states restrict the ways campaign funds can be used. Most require that campaign funds be used only for expenditures “reasonably related” to campaign activities. What that means in each state varies. For instance, some states are explicit about the use of campaign funds for child care. States also may define how campaign funds are dispersed once a campaign is over.

How many states have statutory restrictions on how campaign funds can be used?

  • Forty-four states define how campaign funds can be used.

What uses of campaign funds may be allowed, or may be restricted?

  • Campaign funds can generally be used for expenditures “reasonably related” to campaign activities, and candidates are restricted from using funds for anything that might be considered “personal.” That said, the details vary by state. Typically, food, beverage, travel expenses and wages for campaign staff are all considered to be acceptable uses of campaign funds. “Personal use” can be challenging to define: Eight states explicitly prohibit the purchase of clothing with campaign funds; five states prohibit the purchase of a vehicle; and six states prohibit the payment of a fine, penalty or restitution damage incurred during a campaign. Finally, there are some spending categories that are split. For instance, in California, Utah and Iowa, hiring an attorney is considered a personal use of funds and is prohibited, whereas in Delaware, hiring an attorney is deemed to be a use of funds reasonably related to a campaign.

Which states allow campaign funds to be used for child care?

  • Twenty-four states have moved toward permitting campaign funds to be used for child care expenses incurred during an election. Fifteen states passed legislation that allows a candidate to use campaign funds for child care, and nine states0] have approved the use by their campaign finance boards or commissions.

How do states regulate the dispersal of surplus campaign funds?

  • Thirty-three states have provisions expressly describing how surplus campaign funds can be used. Despite using broadly similar statutory language, states vary on the finer points of their regulations. Thirty-one states allow candidates to contribute excess funds to a “charitable organization,” although states define those organizations differently; 23 states allow candidates to return contributions to the contributors on a pro rata basis; 15 states allow candidates to use surplus funds to defray any remaining “necessary and ordinary” campaign expenditures; and seven states allow candidates to use funds for subsequent elections.

Campaign Finance Reporting and Enforcement Requirements

All states require some reporting of campaign finance, and that means some entity or agency within each state is responsible for receiving those reports. Likewise, each state has one or more campaign finance enforcement mechanisms.

Which state entity is responsible for receiving and processing campaign finance reports?

  • Each state designates an agency or office to receive campaign finance reports. Among the most common are the office of the secretary of state, the state board of elections or a state ethics commission. Some states have offices expressly created to field campaign finance reports.  In 23 states campaign finance reports go to the secretary of state; in 16 states they go to a state ethics or accountability commission; in another 16 they go to the state board of elections or elections commission; in seven states they go to the state attorney general; and in 18 states multiple agencies or offices are responsible for the reports.

Which state entity handles campaign finance investigations and enforcement?

  • Forty-five states divide enforcement power between a civil agency that can impose civil penalties and the state attorney general or a local prosecutor who can investigate and prosecute criminal offenses. (The civil agency often is the same one that receives campaign finance reports, such as the secretary of state or the state board of elections.) The other five states rely on either their board of elections or their ethics commission to enforce campaign finance law.

For more information, visit https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/campaign-finance-enforcement.aspx.

This report was supported in part by a grant from the Thornburg Foundation, a family foundation in New Mexico that makes grants in the areas of good government reform, early childhood education, agriculture reform and community funding.

NCSL thanks Haley Rosenspire, law student at William & Mary Law School, for her assistance in gathering data and providing analysis for this project.