The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 established limits for contributions by individuals to candidates and national party committees starting with the 2004 election cycle. The commission increases contribution limits every odd-numbered year to reflect changes in inflation. Inflation skyrocketed in 2022 to the highest level in four decades, and unprecedented contribution limit increases reflect the historic economic heat.
Individual donors can now give $3,300 per candidate per election, an unprecedented $400 increase from $2,900 during the 2022 election cycle. That means between the primary and general elections, a donor can give a candidate up to $6,600 — or $9,900 if a race advances to a runoff.
The contribution limit to national party committees also jumped from $36,500 to $41,300 per year. The annual maximum contribution to special national party committee accounts, calculated as three times the contribution limit to the party committees, increased from $109,500 to $123,900.
In effect, the changes could allow an individual donor to give the three national party committees and their special accounts nearly $2 million per party per election cycle. Each national party committee has a legal/recount fund and a building/headquarters fund eligible to receive $123,900 each per year, and the national party committees — the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee — also have a convention fund that can receive an additional $123,900 per year.
The three national Democratic committees are the DNC, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The three national Republican committees are the RNC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The limit for how much some national party committees can contribute also jumped. National committees and their respective senatorial campaign committees may contribute up to $57,800 to Senate candidates, up from $35,000.
Federal campaign finance law further requires certain political committees to disclose contributions bundled by lobbyists and registrants once the contributions exceed a specified threshold amount. The new threshold for the 2023 calendar year is $21,800.
PAC contributions to candidates and groups remain unchanged at $5,000 per election, as these contribution limits are not indexed for inflation. While elections grow ever-more expensive, total PAC giving has been effectively stagnant since 2008.
The newly-announced individual contribution limits to candidates apply retroactively to any 2024 election cycle contributions since Nov. 9, 2022, the day after the 2022 general election, and will stay in effect until Nov. 5, 2024, the day after the 2024 general election. New contribution limits to national party committees retroactively apply to contributions made starting Jan. 1, 2023, and will remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2024.
Money flowing into special accounts lacks transparency
Current FEC regulations do not require national party committees to disclose basic information on the money received or spent by national party committees through these special accounts, making it almost impossible to track all contributions to the accounts.
OpenSecrets, then known as the Center for Responsive Politics, and the Campaign Legal Center filed a petition with the FEC in August 2019 to require full, transparent financial reporting of the millions of dollars that pass through these so-called “cromnibus” accounts. While the commission published the petition and put it out to the public for comment, it has not taken the next step to decide whether or not to conduct a rulemaking on the issue.
The failure to address the petition is a “pretty egregious failure on the FEC’s part,” Adav Noti, senior vice president and legal director at the nonpartisan watchdog Campaign Legal Center, told OpenSecrets in a phone interview.
“The FEC has done almost nothing to make sure that the money going into and coming out of those accounts is properly reported to the public,” Noti told OpenSecrets.
“The amount going into these accounts is very large,” he said, emphasizing that “donors who give those quantities of money, some of them are doing it because they want to buy influence over the parties or access to party officials or access to elected officials, and the public needs to know who they are and how much money they are giving to these accounts so that we can detect and keep an eye on the potential for megadonors to have undue influence over parties and elected officials.”