Electioneering communications

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An electioneering communication is "any broadcast, cable or satellite communication that fulfills each of the following conditions," according to the Federal Election Commission's brochure on electioneering.[1]

  • "refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office"
  • "publicly distributed shortly before an election for the office that candidate is seeking"
  • "targeted to the relevant electorate" (only regarding candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate)

Rules with definitions

The FEC brochure provides the following rules and definitions regarding electioneering communications:[1]

  • "A communication refers to a clearly identified federal candidate if it contains the candidate's name, nickname or image, or makes any unambiguous reference to the person or their status as a candidate, such as 'the Democratic candidate for Senate'."
  • "Generally, a communication is publicly distributed if it is disseminated for a fee by a television station, radio station, cable television system or satellite system."
  • "Electioneering communications are limited to paid programming. The station is not required to seek or receive payment for distribution of the communication to qualify. Therefore, public service announcements, infomercials and commercials are all included within the definition."
  • "The electioneering communications rules apply only to communications that are transmitted within 60 days prior to a general election or 30 days prior to a primary election for the federal office sought by the candidate, including elections in which the candidate is unopposed. A primary election includes any caucus or convention of a political party which has the authority to nominate a candidate to federal office. ... This condition regarding the timing of the communication applies only to elections in which the candidate referred to is seeking office."
  • "In the case of Presidential and Vice-Presidential primary candidates, the communication is publicly distributed if it can be received by 50,000 or more people."
  • "The communication targets the relevant electorate if it can be received by 50,000 or more people in the district (in the case of a U.S. House candidate) or state (in the case of a Senate candidate) that the candidate seeks to represent."


The FEC brochure provides the following exemptions from the definition for "electioneering communications":[1]

  • "A communication that is disseminated through a means other than a broadcast station, radio station, cable television system or satellite system. For example, neither printed media-including newspapers, magazines, bumper stickers, yard signs and billboards-nor communications over the internet, e-mail or the telephone are included."
  • "A news story, commentary or editorial broadcast by a television station, radio station, cable television system or satellite system. However, if the facilities are owned or controlled by a political party, political committee or candidate, the communication must satisfy the exemption for news stories."
  • "A candidate debate or forum or a communication that solely promotes a debate or forum. Communications promoting the debate or forum must be made by or on behalf of the sponsor."
  • "Communications by state or local candidates that do not promote, support, attack or oppose federal candidates."
  • Generaly speaking, political action committees that are registered with the FEC are "not subject to the electioneering communications rules."

Permitted / restricted groups

  • "Qualified Nonprofit Corporations (QNCs) may make electioneering communications", that is, a nonprofit corporation incorporated as a 501(c)(4) "that is ideological in nature and qualifies for exemptions."[1]
  • 527 committees generally "may not make electioneering communications" other than "an incorporated state party committee or state candidate committee operating" A 527 is "exempt from this corporate prohibition provided that" it:[1]
  • Is "not a political committee ..."
  • "Incorporates for liability purposes only."
  • "Does not use any funds donated by corporations or labor organizations to fund the electioneering communication."
  • "Complies with the FEC's reporting requirements for electioneering communications."
  • "Unincorporated, unregistered '527' organizations may also make electioneering communications, subject to the disclosure requirements and the prohibition against corporate and labor funds."[1]
  • "Individuals and partnerships may make or finance electioneering communications, provided that certain conditions are met. Those that accept funds provided by corporations or labor organizations may neither use those funds to pay for electioneering communications, nor give them to another to defray the costs of making an electioneering communication.[1]

Prohibited groups

  • "Corporations and labor organizations are prohibited from making or financing electioneering communications to those outside of their restricted class."[1]
  • "Further, they may not provide funds to any person if they know, have reason to know, or are willfully blind to the fact that the funds are for the purpose of making electioneering communications."[1]

Disclosure and filing

"Persons who make electioneering communications that aggregate more than $10,000 in the calendar year must file the '24 Hour Notice of Disbursements/Obligations for Electioneering Communications' (FEC Form 9)[2] with the [FEC] within 24 hours of the disclosure date", which "must be received by the Commission by 11:59 p.m. on the day following the disclosure date."[1]

Where to search

Searches for information regarding electioneering communications can be conducted through both IRS and FEC records.

  • IRS: here.
  • FEC: Campaign Finance Reports and Data, with a link for "Electioneering Communications", here.

More information

For more information on "electioneering communications", contact the following:

Federal Election Commission
999 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.
Toll free: 800 424-9530 (press 6)
Phone: 202 694-1100
Email: info AT fec.gov


Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Introduction, "Election Communications Brochure," Federal Election Commission.
  2. FEC Form 9.

External articles

External resources