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Independent Expenditures

Note: On February 16, 2010, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California ordered a preliminary injunction with respect to several provisions of the City of San Diego's campaign laws. In particular, the court's order prevents the City from enforcing any limits on the source or amount of contributions to entities that make independent expenditures. These FAQs have been updated to recognize the court's ruling.

What is an "independent expenditure"?

In candidate elections, an independent expenditure is a payment for a communication expressly supporting or opposing a candidate for elective office that is not made at the behest of a candidate or any agent of the candidate. A payment is made at the behest of a candidate if it is made at the request, suggestion, or direction of the candidate, is coordinated with the candidate, or is otherwise made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with the candidate.

In ballot measure elections, an independent expenditure is a payment for a communication expressly supporting or opposing a ballot measure that is not made at the behest of a committee primarily formed to support or oppose the ballot measure.

Who can make an "independent expenditure"?

Any person or entity can make an independent expenditure to support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure. Keep in mind, however, that anyone making $1,000 or more in independent expenditures has become a "committee" and will be required to file documents to disclose its expenditures.

What is a "committee"?

A committee is any individual, group of individuals, or organization that receives contributions totaling $1,000 or more in a calendar year, or makes independent expenditures totaling $1,000 or more in a calendar year, to support or oppose a candidate for elective office or a ballot measure. An entity that accepts contributions from others is a "recipient committee." On the other hand, an entity that spends its own money is an "independent expenditure committee." Both types of committees can make "independent expenditures."

What are "primarily formed recipient committees" and "general purpose recipient committees"?

A "primarily formed committee" is a committee formed primarily to support or oppose a single candidate or single measure, or a group of specific candidates or measures being voted upon in the same election. On the other hand, a "general purpose recipient committee" supports multiple candidates and/or measures in multiple elections. A general purpose recipient committee will be a "State," "County," or "City" committee depending on where it spends most of its money.

What is the difference between a contribution and an independent expenditure?

A contribution is given to someone else to spend. For example, if a person gives $100 to a candidate, that person has made a contribution. The candidate may spend that $100 on advertising, flyers, billboards, or anything else he or she wants. Moreover, if a person spends $100 at the behest of a candidate or the candidate's committee, that payment is also a contribution. On the other hand, if a person spends money on advertising, flyers, etc. to support a candidate, but does so in a manner that is completely independent of the candidate, he or she has made an independent expenditure.

Can I coordinate an independent expenditure with a candidate?

No. An expenditure that supports a candidate's campaign for elective office will be considered an "independent expenditure" only if it is made without any involvement by the candidate or any of the candidate's agents. An expenditure that is directly or indirectly coordinated with a candidate is a contribution to that candidate.

How much money may a committee spend on independent expenditures?

The City of San Diego does not impose any limits on the amount of money that a committee may spend to support the election of a candidate or the passage of a ballot measure.

May a committee that makes independent expenditures collect contributions from individuals and non-individual entities to support or oppose a candidate for City office?

Yes. Such committees may collect contributions in any amount from individuals and non-individual entities (e.g., business entities, non-profit organizations, etc.) to use for independent expenditures that support or oppose a candidate for City office.

May a general purpose recipient committee accept organizational contributions to support a ballot measure?

Yes. Organizations may make contributions in any amount to committees that are organized to support or oppose the qualification of a City measure for the ballot, or the adoption or defeat of a City measure.

May a general purpose recipient committee support both a ballot measure and a candidate?

Yes. Such committees may (a) make independent expenditures to support or oppose a candidate for elective City office; (b) give contributions directly to a ballot measure committee; and (c) make independent expenditures to support or oppose a ballot measure.

May a candidate make an independent expenditure to support another candidate?

No. Candidates may not use campaign funds to make independent expenditures to support or oppose other candidates.

I still have questions. How do I get help?

The Ethics Commission is available to provide telephonic or written advice regarding these matters. Additionally, the City Clerk's Office website contains helpful resources regarding independent expenditures.