How Much You Can Give to Political Candidates and Campaigns

Federal Election Commission Rules and Regulations

Hand signing check
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So you want to give some money to a political candidate.

Maybe your congressman is seeking re-election, or an upstart challenger has decided to run against her in the primary and you want to throw some extra cash to the campaign.

How do you do it? How much can you give? 

Related: Can You Recall a Member of Congress?

Here's what you need to know before you write that check to your congressman's re-election campaign in the 2013-14 election cycle.

Question: How much can I contribute?

Answer: An individual can contribute $2,700 at most to a candidate for federal office in a single election cycle. That means you can give $5,400 to a single candidate in an election year: $2,700 during the primary campaign, and $2,700 more during the general election.

Related: How Much Did the 2012 Presidential Race Cost?

One way many households get around this limit is by having husbands and wives make separate contributions to a candidate. Even if only one spouse has an income, both householders can write a check for $2,700 to a candidate during a single election cycle.

Question: If I've hit that limit, can I give money to someone else to contribute?

Answer: No. Federal election laws prohibit someone who has contributed the maximum amount of money to a candidate in one election cycle from giving money to someone else to give. Also, companies are banned from issuing a bonus to employees for the purpose of writing checks to a candidate for federal office.

Question: Can the candidates spend the money however they wish?

Answer: No. There are some limitations on how candidates can spend money. Generally speaking, candidates are not allowed to spend money contributed to campaign funds for any personal use.

The money you give to candidates for political office must be spent on campaign operations, though any money left over after an election may remain in the campaign account or be transferred to a party account, according to Federal Election Commission regulations.

Question: What if I'm not at U.S. citizen or don't live in the United States?

Answer: Then you can't contribute to political campaigns. Federal elections laws prohibit campaign contributions from non-U.S. citizens and foreign nationals living in the United States. However, those living in the United States legally - individuals carrying a "green card," for example - may contribute to federal political campaigns.

Question: What if I have a contract with the federal government?

Answer: You are not allowed to contribute money. According to the Federal Election Commission:

"If you are a consultant under contract to a Federal agency, you may not contribute to Federal candidates or political committees. Or, if you are the sole proprietor of a business with a Federal government contract, you may not make contributions from personal or business funds."

You may make a contribution, however, if you're merely an employee of a firm that holds a government contract.

Question: How do I give money to a candidate?

Answer: There are several ways. You can write a check to the campaign, contribute via bank transfer, credit card charge, electronic check and even text message.

Question: Can I use Bitcoins to make a contribution?

Answer: No, even though Bitcoins are being used to purchase goods and services across the world, Americans are not yet permitted to use the electronic currency  to support political campaigns or committees at the national level or give to other organizations that seek to influence federal elections in the United States.

Question: What if I don't want to give money to a candidate? Can I give to a party?

Answer: Of course. Individuals are allowed to give as much as $32,400 to national political parties and $10,000 to state and local parties over the course of a calendar year.

Related: How to Start Your Own Super PAC

You can also give unlimited amounts of money to super PACs, which raise and spend money independent of political candidates but advocate nonetheless for the election or defeat of candidates.