What are the limits on contributions to candidates for City Office in Philadelphia?
Contribution limits to candidates in Philadelphia per calendar year (as of January 2016):
From an Individual
$3,000 – To a Candidate’s Political Committee
$3,000 – To a Candidate’s Litigation Fund
$3,000 – To a Former Candidate’s Political Committee (post-candidacy contribution*)
From a Political Committee, Partnership or Sole Proprietorship
$11,900 – To a Candidate’s Political Committee
$11,900 – To a Candidate’s Litigation Fund
$11,900 – To a Former Candidate’s Political Committee (post-candidacy contribution*)
*Between the general election and the end of that calendar year (or for an unsuccessful primary election candidate, between the primary election and the end of that calendar year) and in each year that follows the year of the general election.
Which candidates are subject to the contribution limits?
The contribution limits apply to contributions to candidates for the following offices: Mayor; City Council; District Attorney; City Controller, Sheriff, and City Commissioner.
Note: Judicial candidates and candidates for Register of Wills are considered state candidates and are therefore not subject to the contribution limits.
What is a “contribution”?
1) Any money, gifts, forgiveness of debts, or loans incurred or received by a candidate or his or her agent for use in advocating or influencing the election of the candidate;
2) Any thing having a monetary value incurred or received by a candidate or his or her agent for use in advocating or influencing the election of the candidate and which includes any payment by a person or a political committee provided for the benefit of the candidate and any in-kind contributions, such as the provision of or payment for goods or services without charge or at a charge that is less than the usual and normal charge for such goods or services where such provision or payment is made for the benefit of the candidate; or
3) Any post-candidacy contribution, which includes money, gifts, forgiveness of debts, loans, or things having a monetary value, received by a former candidate or his or her agent for use in retiring debt that was incurred to influence the outcome of a covered election, or for the purpose of defraying the cost of transition or inauguration of a candidate elected to City Office.
How is a “candidate” defined?
Under the City’s campaign finance law, a “candidate” is someone who has filed nomination papers for City elective office or publicly announced his or her candidacy.
Are there special rules for money raised by an individual before he or she becomes a “candidate”?
Yes. Once a person becomes a “candidate,” he or she may not spend “excess pre-candidacy contributions” to influence his or her election. An “excess pre-candidacy contribution” is the portion of a contribution made to a political committee that, had the contribution been made to a candidate for City elective office, would have been in excess of the contribution limits.
For example, Person A is contemplating becoming a candidate for City elective office in 2011. On November 15, 2010 Person A’s political committee receives $3,000 from an individual. On December 1, 2010, Person A declares her candidacy for City elective office. Person A may not spend $400 of the $3,000 “pre-candidacy” contribution to influence her 2011 election because the contribution limit from an individual is $2,600.
How should a candidate handle excess pre-candidacy contributions?
A candidate may not spend excess pre-candidacy contributions to influence the outcome of a covered election in which he or she participates. A candidate must exclude all excess pre-candidacy contributions from his or her candidate political committee checking account by one of the following methods:
a. Transferring excess pre-candidacy contributions to a segregated pre/post-candidacy excess contribution account (“SPEC” account) within ten days after he or she becomes a candidate; or
b. Returning excess pre-candidacy contributions to the contributors who made those contributions within ten days after he or she becomes a candidate.
Is there a limit on the amount that a candidate may spend from his or her own money or resources on his or her own campaign?
No. However, if a candidate contributes $250,000 or more of his or her own personal resources, the contribution limits for all candidates for that office double.
Will the contribution limits ever change under the law?
Yes. The contribution limits are adjusted every four years for inflation by application of a consumer price index multiplier. The contribution limits in Question 1, above, are the adjusted limits that became effective in January of 2012. The next adjustment of the limits will be in 2016.
Are there limits on the amount of money a candidate can receive in a non-election year?
Yes. There are limits on the amount of total contributions a candidate may accept from a political committee which vary, depending on the office:
- Mayoral candidates may receive $250,000 in total contributions from political committees in each non-election year.
- Candidates for District Attorney and City Controller may receive $100,000 in total contributions from political committees in each non-election year.
- Candidates for the other City offices covered by the law (City Council, Sheriff, and City Commissioners), may receive $75,000 in total contributions from political committees in each non-election year.
Are there rules about campaign committees and checking accounts for candidates?
Yes. A candidate may have only one campaign committee and one checking account for the City office sought. All contributions for such office must be deposited into this account, and all expenditures for that office must be made from the same account. Funds collected in other political or non-political accounts may not be used to influence a City election.
However, a candidate may establish a separate litigation fund committee in order to receive contributions and make expenditures to pay professional fees incurred in defense of a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding arising directly out of the conduct of the candidate’s election campaign or participation in the election.
A candidate may also make expenditures through up to one political committee in addition to his or her candidate political committee for the printing and distribution of sample ballots that are distributed in the candidate’s ward.
How are the campaign contribution limits enforced?
The Board of Ethics is authorized to enforce the City’s campaign finance law either by filing an action in court or by administratively adjudicating alleged violations. The maximum penalty for a most violations of the campaign finance law is $2,000.
The penalty for acceptance of an excess contribution is three times the excess portion or $2,000, whichever is less, but no penalty is assessed if the candidate returns the excess within 15 days of receipt and so notifies the Ethics Board.
The penalty for late filing of a campaign finance report is $250, but each day after the due date is a separate violation. The maximum penalty is $2,000 for the first 30 days late plus $1,000 for each additional 30-day period or part thereof.
Are candidates and committees required to file campaign finance reports with the Board of Ethics?
Yes. All candidates for City elective office are required to file electronic reports with the Board of Ethics via the Records Department.
Also, whenever a political committee files a campaign finance report with the City Commissioners or the Secretary of State, it must file electronically a copy of that report with the Board, through the Department of Records, if the report filed with the City Commissioners or Secretary of State discloses, or should disclose, any expenditures made to influence a covered election, including expenditures to a candidate for City elective office.
Are judicial candidates required to file campaign finance reports with the Ethics Board?
In general, no, because the Ethics Board does not have jurisdiction over judicial candidates since they are running for state, not City office. However, if the campaign finance report of a judicial candidate committee discloses contributions from or expenditures to a City candidate, the committee must file a copy of that report with the Ethics Board. All reports must be filed electronically through the Department of Records.
Where can I obtain more information about the laws that apply to candidates in Philadelphia?