The purpose of this guide is to advise citizens how they may legally take an active part in the election process. There are several ways you may support candidates and multi-candidate committees (PACs) involved in State and Local elections. These activities, however, are subject to the campaign finance law. For example, the law limits the amount of money you may contribute and prohibits certain people and organizations from making contributions. This guide explains how to participate in State and Local elections in compliance with Tennessee law. It is important to note that this guide focuses on political activity in State and Local elections—not Federal elections.
If you would like to view a printable version of the guide please click the link, Citizen's Guide. If you would like to view the information on this page, you may click any of the questions below to be taken to the section that will answer the question.
Your contributions to State and Local candidates and PACs are limited under the law. You, the contributor, and the committee to which you give are both legally responsible for making sure that your contribution does not exceed your contribution limits. The paragraphs below list the contribution limits for individuals.
An individual may give a maximum of:
· $1,500 per election to a State Legislative or Local candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee. Note that the limit applies separately to each election. Primary, general and runoff elections are considered separate elections.
· $3,800 per election to a Statewide (Governor) candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee. Note that the limit applies separately to each election. Primary and general elections are considered separate elections.
· $50 in currency (cash) to any candidate or PAC. Contributions exceeding $50 per election must be made by check, money order or other written instrument.
If two or more individuals (such as a husband and wife) want to make a contribution using one check drawn on a joint account they may. If a contribution is made in this manner, it is advisable to attach a statement explaining to the recipient how the contribution should be divided between the contributors.
A husband and wife each have separate contribution limits, even if only one spouse has an income. For example, a couple may contribute a $3,000 check to a candidate’s primary campaign and have $1,500 attributed to the husband and $1,500 attributed to the wife.
A child under eighteen (18) years of age may make contributions from funds they control if the minor knowingly and voluntarily makes such contribution. A minor may not use funds provided as a gift to them for the purpose of making a contributions to make contributions to a candidate or PAC.
While most individuals are free to make political contributions, there are some prohibitions on contributions as explained below.
Contributions in the Name of Another
Most people think of contributions as donations of money in the form of checks or currency. While these are common ways of making a contribution, anything of value given to influence an election is considered a contribution. This section describes several forms of giving that are considered contributions. All contributions you make, no matter the type, count against your contributions limits detailed above.
Donated Items and Services
Under limited exceptions in the law, you may provide certain goods and services without making a contribution to the committee. These exceptions are discussed below in Question 4.
Fundraising Tickets and Items
Loans and Loan Endorsements
The items discussed below are not considered contributions and therefore do not count against the contribution limits.
Sample Ballots and Slate Cards
Independent expenditures provide another way to support candidates. An independent expenditure is money spent for a communication expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate which is not made with the cooperation or with the prior consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request of, or suggestion of, a candidate or any agent or authorized committee of the candidate.
Independent expenditures are not considered contributions and are unlimited. You may spend any amount on each communication as long as the expenditure is truly independent. You may, for example, pay for an advertisement in a newspaper or on the radio urging the public to vote for the candidate you want elected. Or you may produce and distribute posters or yard signs telling people not to vote for a candidate you oppose.
If you and other individuals act together as a group to conduct activities to influence a election(s), the group may be a “political campaign committee.” Political campaign committees are generally defined as:
Political campaign committees are required to maintain records and file campaign reports on the committee's activities with the Registry of Election Finance or a County Election Commission. Three types of political campaign committees exist in Tennessee:
If you are interested in forming a group to participate in State or Local elections and you need more information you may contact the Registry of Election Finance (State Elections) or your County Election Commission (Local Elections). More detailed information on each of the political campaign committees described above is also available at the Registry's website,www.tn.gov/tref .
The campaign finance law requires many participants in the election process to submit campaign finance reports detailing their financial activity. These reports are then made available to the public. Political campaign committees must file detailed reports on the money they raise and spend. As an individual, you are not required to file campaign finance reports. However, as an individual contributor, you may be asked to provide information to the recipient committee for its reports.
If you contribute more than $100 to a committee, the committee is required to use its best efforts to collect and publicly disclose on campaign finance reports your name, address, occupation and employer, as well as the date and amount of your contribution. Committees sometimes request this information even for smaller contributions, since the $100 reporting threshold applies to your total contributions to one committee during a reporting period. For example, if you may make several small contributions to a committee during a reporting period and the contributions total over $100 then the committee must report the contributor information.
As a voter, you may be interested in learning how a particular candidate finances his or her campaign. Who is contributing? How much? Is the candidate using personal funds to finance the campaign? Does the committee have debts? Or you may want to know which candidates a party committee or PAC is supporting, and how much the committee is giving. This information is available to the public in the campaign finance reports regularly filed with the Registry and County Election Commissions.
State Candidate/PAC Records
Local Candidate / PAC Records
If you are a registered voter and believe a violation of the State campaign finance law has taken place, you may file a sworn complaint. If the complaint concerns a state candidate the sworn complaint should be filed with the Registry of Election Finance. If the complaint concerns a local candidate the sworn complaint should be filed with the district attorney general in the judicial district in which the voter resides.
Your sworn complaint can be in the form of a letter and you must have your signature notarized. The letter should explain why you believe the law may have been violated, describe the specific facts and circumstances and name the individuals or organizations you believe have violated the campaign finance laws. You should also attach any documentation you have concerning the complaint.
If the Registry feels that there is sufficient information to move forward with the complaint process, the Registry will provide an opportunity to the party the complaint was filed against to respond to the complaint. The Registry will consider all information available before making a final decision on the complaint.
There are several ways to receive more information concerning the campaign finance laws. You may contact the Registry by phone, fax or e-mail. In addition, the Registry's website contains more detailed information about the campaign finance statutes. Contact information is listed below.