March 26, 2017

Campaign Contribution Limits Increased

During the 2012 election cycle, individuals can now give $2,500 to each federal candidate, according to a recent announcement from the Federal Election Commission. The individual contribution limit was $2,400 during the 2010 election cycle. This $100 increase is a result of a biennial adjustment to contribution limits that is indexed according to inflation. Since 2002, individual contributions limits have been raised five times. As the chart below shows, the typical adjustment is $100.

The first adjustment came in Section 307 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 [.pdf], which raised the contribution limit to $2,000. Prior to this law, the limit for individual contributions had been $1,000 since 1974, when the Federal Election Campaign Act was amended to institute the first limit on individual campaign contributions.

Since FECA did not allow for adjustments to contribution limits, BCRA included the requirement to adjust the limits every odd numbered year according to inflation. Adjustments to the individual contribution limit must be rounded to $100 increments, as stated in Section 307 (d).

In addition to raising the individual contribution limit in 2011, the FEC also raised the overall contribution limit. Individuals were previously limited to donating $115,500 during an election cycle, but now the limit is $117,000. Individuals cannot exceed this amount between January 1st, 2011, and December 31st, 2012. The chart below shows the limits for how much individuals can contribute to campaign organizations.

*Only these limits are adjusted biennially.

Meanwhile, the contribution limits for special interest groups remain unlimited. Citizens United v. FEC (2010) ruled that special interests cannot only donate an unlimited amount of money to campaigns in federal elections, but certain organizations (501 groups) can also do so anonymously. This Supreme Court ruling resulted with a drastic increase of activity from special interests in the 2010 election cycle. In fact, special interests spent more money in 2010 than they spent in 2008, which is the first time a midterm election has had more special interest spending than the previous presidential election.

Moreover, 36% of the spending from special interests in the 2010 cycle was anonymous. This not only means special interests have more influence in elections than ever before, but also that the public does not know where all special interests receive their money. With the strict limitations on individual contributions, it is not unreasonable to expect a similar limit applied to special interests, but this has not been put forth.

The 112th Congress has not even introduced a bill to impose any limitations on the amount of influence special interest groups can wield in elections. Even if Congress does not limit the amount that special interests can contribute, Congress should at least require special interests to disclose their sources of funding. The public ought to know where special interests receive their funds, but it seems Congress is only concerned with such regulations upon individuals.

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