Part III. Campaign Finance

Campaign Finance

Court cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, and the billions of dollars flowing into both state and national politics from unknown sources, have brought the issue of money in politics to the forefront. Congress can regulate donations to federal campaigns (see the Federal Election Commission for those), but each state has the freedom to set its own rule for state offices, within the confines of the Constitution as interpreted by courts, which prohibit limits on purely independent expenditures and on total spending by a candidate.  

Within those constraints, the most frequently used tool to restrain the influence of money on elections are limits on contributions to political campaigns. Most states set limits on the amounts that individuals, political parties, PACs, corporations, and unions can donate to political campaigns, and in some cases, contributions from a particular source are prohibited.

Most states require contributions to be publicly disclosed, but disclosure requirements also vary by state, as does the form of disclosure.

Contribution Limits

To see the different contribution limits, click on a top row option to select a donor and on a bottom row option to select a recipient.


Most states restrict the amount of money that any individual can contribute to a state campaign, and most set different limits for each office.


Political Action Committees (PACs) allow individuals to pool their money into a single committee that can make donations typically larger than the limit on individuals. Corporate PACs allow company employees to pool their money together, and are often seen as a way around prohibitions on corporations contributing directly to candidates.


Eighteen states impose no restrictions on the ability of state party committees to contribute money to a campaign for state office.


Twenty-two states completely prohibit corporations from contributing to political campaigns. Another six—Alabama, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia—allow corporations to contribute an unlimited amount of money to state campaigns. Of the remaining 22 states, 19 impose the same restrictions on corporate contributions as they do for individual contributions. Since Citizens United, state laws prohibiting corporations from making independent expenditures in support of candidates or parties have been invalidated.


Twenty-five states impose no limits on the amount unions can donate to PACs, and ten states impose no limits on donations from unions to House, Senate, and Gubernatorial candidates.

Responsibility to Disclose

All 50 states and the District of Columbia mandate that candidates for elective office report the contributions they receive and the expenditures they make while pursuing public office. Typically, a candidate must register with the state election administration agency, maintain receipts from contributions and expenditures, and report them on dates established by the legislature.

Who Is Required To Disclose

Required Information Disclosure By State

All 50 states mandate some form of contribution disclosure and reporting. The specific requirements vary from state to state. 

Disclosure Categories

Electronic Filing

Most states mandate that candidates report campaign finance information electronically. Lists of contributors are posted automatically, which allows for a more transparent system wherein concerned citizens have access to the sources of campaign contributions. See, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, for contribution data from all states.

Public Campaign Finance Availability

Beyond contribution limits, the other tool that states possess to reduce the influence of donors and make it easier for the voice of the broad public to be heard is public financing of campaigns. While some states implemented public financing systems in the 1970s that are little used, a new wave of interest in public financing began in 1996 with the passage by ballot initiative of the “Clean Elections” public financing system in Maine, in which participating candidates would receive funds adequate to to run an effective campaign if they demonstrated broad support through a specified number of small contributions. Arizona soon followed and Connecticut enacted full public financing by legislative action. Other states have used tax credits to encourage small donations, and localities, notably New York City and Seattle, have experimented with other models of public financing, such as matching systems and vouchers. For more on these models, see Small Donor Empowerment: A New Menu of Options to Strengthen the Voice of Citizens (New America, 2015).

Candidates who accept public financing, in any form, must also agree to limits on total spending as well as on contributions. The Supreme Court has backed these systems, provided they are voluntary.

Thirteen states provide some kind of public financing for campaigns, although in many states, few candidates take advantage of the system or it applies to a limited number of offices. In every case, candidates must agree to limit how much they can spend on a campaign, as well as how much they can receive from any one person or group.

Some states provide public financing for parties to fund conventions and other activities like voter registration drives. Funds are provided through a voluntary checkoff on the state’s tax forms. Currently, Alabama, Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Utah have that system in place.