Policy under review: donor disclosure requirements on independent expenditure and electioneering communication disclaimers

Last month, we explored donor disclosure requirements for non-PAC entities making independent expenditures. This week, we examine donor disclosure requirements on independent expenditure and electioneering communication disclaimers.

An independent expenditure is an advertisement that explicitly advocates for the election or defeat of a clearly identified political candidate. 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. Because these advertisements explicitly advocate for or against a candidate, they are a form of express advocacy.

An electioneering communication is any broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission that refers to a clearly identified candidate within a specified time period preceding a primary or general election. Although electioneering communications refer to a specific candidate, they do not explicitly advocate for that candidate’s election or defeat. This makes an electioneering communication a form of issue advocacy.

Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and select nonprofits (such as 501(c)(4) groups) can make both independent expenditures and electioneering communications.

Independent expenditures and electioneering communications must generally include a disclaimer identifying the individual or entity sponsoring the advertisement. Seven states establish donor disclosure requirements for these disclaimers. This means that, under select circumstances, the entities sponsoring independent expenditures and/or electioneering communications must disclose identifying information about their donors. These states are shaded in green on the map below. Further details about the requirements in each are provided below the map.

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  • California: Identification of donors who gave $50,000 or more to the sponsor.
  • Connecticut: Identification of the top five donors who made the largest aggregate covered transfers to the sponsor in the 12-month period immediately preceding the primary or election (applies to independent expenditures made during the 90-day period immediately preceding a primary or election).
    • A covered transfer is defined as “any donation, transfer, or payment of funds by a person to another person if the person receiving the donation, transfer, or payment makes independent expenditures or transfers funds to another person who makes independent expenditures.”
    • Statutory citation: General Statutes of Connecticut, Section 9-621(h)(1)
  • Hawaii: Identification of the top three donors who gave $10,000 or more to the sponsor for the purpose of funding the communication.
  • Maine: Identification of the top three donors who gave $1,000 or more to the sponsor since the most recent general election (applies to all independent expenditures costing more than $250).
  • Rhode Island: Identification of the top five donors who made the largest total donations in the 12-month period preceding the date of the advertisement (applies to 501(c) entities).
  • South Dakota: Identification of the top five donors who made the largest total donations to the sponsor in the 12-month period preceding the advertisement.
  • Washington: Identification of the top five donors who made the largest total contributions exceeding $700 in the 12-month period preceding the advertisement.

Political context: Six of these seven states are Democratic trifectas. The seventh, South Dakota, is a Republican trifecta.

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state: We’re currently tracking 45 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 March 31, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Disclosure Digest status chart March 31, 2020.png

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

Disclosure Digest partisan chart March 31, 2020.png

Recent legislative actions

No legislative actions have been taken on relevant bills since our last issue.




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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