Individuals and political committees are permitted to make independent expenditures. Corporations, labor organizations and individuals or businesses with federal government contracts may not make independent expenditures. However, Qualified Nonprofit Corporations are permitted to make independent expenditures.
Generally, independent expenditures must identify the person paying for the advertisement.
Political action committees and other persons have specific reporting requirements associated with independent expenditures.
Contributions to anyone making an independent expenditure is subject to limitations.
Coordinated Communications Distinguished
Any communication that is paid for by an individual or political committee and that is "coordinated" with a specific candidate or party committee is not an independent expenditure. Rather, it is a contribution and subject to limits, prohibitions and reporting requirements of the federal campaign finance law. Only permissible sources, such as individuals or political committees may make coordinated communications. Corporations, labor organizations, Qualified Nonprofit Corporations or individuals and businesses with federal government contracts may not make coordinated communications to federal elections. Generally, a group making a coordinated communication must provide a disclaimer identifying the person paying for the advertisement.
Generally, a payment is coordinated if it is made in cooperation with or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, a candidate's authorized committee or a political party.
Three prong test for coordination
The Federal Election Commission developed a three prong test to determine whether a communication is coordinated. The three prongs are payment, content and conduct. Each prong must be met for a communication to be considered coordinated.
The payment prong is met if the advertisement was paid for anyone other than the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee or a political party.
The content prong is met if one of the following three actions occurred:
- The advertisement promotes or opposes a specific candidate;
- The advertisement mentions a specific type of candidate and is distributed to the electorate within a specific time frame prior to the election;
- The communicated distributes campaign materials prepared by a candidate or the communication refers to a candidate or political party and is distributed within a certain time frame prior to the election.
The conduct prong is satisfied if one of following five actions occurred:
- The communication was created at the request of suggestion of the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee or a political party;
- The candidate, candidate's authorized committee or a political party was materially involved in decisions about the content, media outlet, audience, timing or prominence of the communication;
- The communication was created after substantial discussions between the party paying for it and the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee or a political party or the opposing candidate and political party;
- The party paying for the communication employs a common vendor of the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee or a political party to create the communication within a certain time frame; or
- The communication is created after a person previously employed with the candidate, the candidate's authorized committee or a political party convey's the candidate's needs to the party paying for the communication within 120 days of employment.
- Ballotpedia:Index of Terms
- Federal Election Commission
- PACs and Super PACS
- Campaign finance disciplinary agencies