Monday, November 3, 2014

What Does Ohio Law Say about Campaign Contributions?

Q:       Does Ohio law regulate my campaign contributions?
A:        Yes. Ohio law regulates the amount of money you can give in certain races, primarily in state legislative and statewide campaigns. The law also requires the candidate to report contributions. The goal is transparency, which applies to both the candidate and the contributor.

Q:       What must be disclosed?
A:        Candidates and their campaign committees must disclose the campaign contributions they receive. This usually includes the amount of money received as well as the contributor’s name and address.  The value of an “in kind” donation of something other than money must also be disclosed.

Q:       Can’t I remain anonymous?
A:        No. Neither a candidate, nor the committee supporting the candidate, is allowed to accept anonymous donations. If, for example, a candidate’s committee receives an anonymous donation and does not know the contributor’s identity, the committee must make a reasonable attempt to determine who the donor is. The committee or candidate must disclose the donor’s identity if it is discovered, and must document the steps taken to identify the unknown contributor.

Q:       It’s my money. Can’t I give as much as I want?
A:        No.  Ohio limits contribution amounts to campaigns for statewide offices or legislative seats. Ohio’s Revised Code sets the amounts, but allows the Ohio Secretary of State to adjust those for inflation in odd-numbered years. The Secretary of State currently caps individual donations in these amounts:
·       $12,155.52 to a candidate’s campaign in the same election cycle, including primary and general elections;
·       $18,233.28 to a legislative candidate’s election fund in the same calendar year;
·       $12,155.52 to the county party’s fund for the election of  political candidates (“county party statewide fund”) in the county where you live;
·       $0 to any county party’s statewide candidate fund in counties where you do not live;
·       $36,466.56 per calendar year to a state party’s fund for the election of political candidates (“state party’s statewide candidate fund”) in a county where you live.*
·       $12,155.52 to the same the political action committee in a calendar year.
·       $3,600 to a candidate for Supreme Court of Ohio justice or chief justice per election period, if the candidate has a contested primary election. If the candidate does not face a primary election opponent, the maximum is $3,600.
Visit the Ohio Secretary of State’s guide to current contribution limits at
*State and county political parties operate independently; each may maintain funds specifically designated for electing candidates to statewide office.

Q:       Can my child give?
A:        Ohio law prohibits children under age seven from contributing, but children age seven or older may contribute within the limits described above. Also, unlike some other states, there is no statute limiting the total amount a family can donate.

Q:       Can my company donate?
A:        It depends on the type of company. Partnerships, limited liability companies and other unincorporated business entities are allowed to donate to candidates, but Ohio law restricts corporations from donating directly to a candidate’s campaign committee or a political party.  
            However, restrictions that previously applied in Ohio were affected by a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling called Citizens United. Now, corporations (for profit and non-profit) and labor unions are allowed to donate more freely to election campaigns. These organizations, as well as any individual or group of individuals, are allowed to sponsor advertising—without financial limits—that endorses candidates, as long as the entity does not directly contribute to, or coordinate with, the candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee.

      Can I contribute freely to the local race for dog warden?
A:        Ohio law puts no restrictions on local or county races, but local governments are allowed to create their own regulations about campaign contributions, and some have done so.

Q:       Are candidates restricted in how they use their campaign funds?
A:        Yes. Candidates must use their funds for ordinary, necessary and verifiable expenses. This means that candidates may not use their campaign funds for business or for clearly personal needs. However, these rules are broad and allow for spending that might not seem like campaigning. Candidates have been allowed to use their campaign funds for certain meals, trips and even to pay fines related to campaign law violations.

Q:       What about contributions to candidates for federal office?
A:        Federal law applies to campaign spending for candidates running for Congress and President. Contribution limits are set in the following amounts:
·       $2,600 to a federal candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee in each election period (primaries and general elections are considered different election periods);
·       $2,600 per presidential election period;
·       $5,000 to a political action committee (PAC) in the same calendar year;
·       $32,400 each calendar year to a national party committee. 

Q:       Can anyone contribute to federal candidates?
A:        No. A citizen of another country is not allowed to contribute to any U.S. candidate, unless that person is a permanent resident of the United States. Additionally, anyone considered a government contractor—even consultants—may not contribute to federal candidates. For more information about federal campaign laws, visit

This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Columbus attorney Paul Aker. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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