Policy under review: donor disclosure requirements for non-PAC groups making independent expenditures

Last month, we explored state donor disclosure requirements for groups that sponsor electioneering communications. This week, let’s take a closer look at donor disclosure requirements for non-PAC groups making independent expenditures.

An independent expenditure is any money spent on political advertising supporting or opposing a particular candidate for elective office. An independent expenditure originates outside of a candidate’s own election organization and is not coordinated with that candidate’s campaign, authorized candidate committee, or political party committee.

Individuals, political action committees (PACs), super PACs, select nonprofits (such as 501(c)(4) groups), corporations, and labor unions can make independent expenditures. States cannot limit the dollar amounts of independent expenditures. States can, however, impose disclosure requirements on groups making these expenditures.

A total of 33 states require non-PACs making independent expenditures to disclose identifying donor information in required reports. Of these states, 22 require groups to disclose all donors meeting certain contribution amount thresholds, regardless of whether their contributors were earmarked for political spending. These states are shaded in dark green on the map below. The remaining 11 require disclosure only of those donors whose contributions were earmarked for political spending. These states are shaded in light green on the map below.

  • Political context: Of these 33 states, 10 are Democratic trifectas, 14 are Republican trifectas, and nine are divided governments.
    • Of the 11 states that require disclosure only of those donors whose contributions were earmarked for political spending, one is a Democratic trifectas, six are Republican trifectas, and four are divided governments.
    • Of the 22 states that require groups to disclose all donors meeting certain contribution amount thresholds, regardless of whether their contributors were earmarked for political spending, nine are Democratic trifectas, eight are Republican trifectas, and five are divided governments.

Remember]: This discussion deals only with disclosures required as part of regular campaign finance reporting. Disclosures made directly on advertisements, known as disclaimers, are a separate matter.

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What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 41 pieces of legislation dealing with donor disclosure. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

Disclosure Digest map February 24, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Disclosure Digest status chart February 24, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Disclosure Digest partisan chart February 24, 2020.png

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of legislative actions taken on relevant bills since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state then by bill number.

  • New Hampshire HB1525: This bill would alter the definition of a political advocacy organization for the purposes of campaign finance reporting.
    • House Election Law Committee work session scheduled Feb. 18.
    • Bipartisan sponsorship.
  • Oklahoma SB1491: This bill would prohibit public agencies from requiring 501(c) entities to furnish them with personal information about donors.
    • Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 19.
    • Republican sponsorship.
  • Virginia HB849: This bill would subject political campaign communications made via online platforms to the same disclosure requirements currently applied to print media, television, and radio advertisements.
    • Senate approved substitute Feb. 21. House approved its own version of the bill Jan. 30.
    • Democratic sponsorship.
  • Virginia SB979: This bill extends the applicability of the state’s campaign finance disclosure act to candidates for directors or soil and water conservation districts.
    • House Campaign Finance Subcommittee hearing scheduled Feb. 20.
    • Republican sponsorship.



About the author

Jerrick Adams

Jerrick Adams is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at jerrick.adams@ballotpedia.org

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