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Campaign Contributions


What is a contribution?

A "contribution" is any payment made for a political purpose and includes any payment, reimbursement, distribution, transfer, loan, advance, deposit, gift, forgiveness of a debt, or reduction of a debt. The definition is broad enough to cover anything of value given for political purposes to a person if something of equal value is not given in return. A contribution can be a monetary payment (e.g., cash, check, or credit card payment), or a non-monetary or "in-kind" payment (e.g., a donation of goods).

Are there limits to the amount I can contribute to a candidate?

Yes. You may not contribute more than $750 per election to a City Council candidate or $1,350 to a candidate for Mayor or City Attorney. These limits also apply to contributions made to the candidate's campaign committee. Note that if you are an organization, you may not make any contributions to a candidate or his/her campaign committee.

Are there time limits on when I can contribute to a candidate?

Yes. You may not make a contribution to a City candidate until January 1 of the odd-numbered year prior to the primary election. Note that this prohibition does not apply to a candidate donating his or her personal funds to the campaign.

Are there limits to the amount I can contribute to a ballot measure committee?

No. The City of San Diego does not impose any limitations on the amount of money you may contribute to a committee formed to support or oppose a ballot measure. The ability to contribute without restriction applies equally to individuals and to organizations.

May I contribute $750 to a Council candidate for the primary election and another $750 to the same candidate for the general election?

Yes. The $750 contribution limit applies to each election. For Council races, you may contribute a total of $1,500 per candidate over the two elections. For Citywide races, you may contribute a total of $2,700 per candidate over the two elections.

May I contribute to more than one candidate?

Yes. You may contribute up to the applicable limit for each candidate. For example, if there are four races for Council district offices, you could make a $750 contribution to a candidate in each of the four races.

May I contribute to different committees supporting the same candidate?

Yes. You may make unlimited contributions to any general purpose recipient committee or primarily formed recipient committee that makes independent expenditures to support or oppose a candidate in a City election.

I've already given $1,500 to a Council candidate to support her in the primary and general elections. How can I spend more money on this candidate's behalf?

As discussed above, you may contribute additional funds to a general purpose recipient committee or primarily formed recipient committee that is supporting the candidate. In addition, you are not limited in the amount you spend independently. You may spend your own money to print and distribute flyers, purchase a political advertisement in the newspaper, or buy campaign signs to post. Keep in mind, however, that if you make independent expenditures of $1,000 or more in a calendar year, you will be considered a political committee and will have to file documents reporting your expenditures.

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.

My company wishes to contribute to a candidate. Is it subject to the $750/$1,350 limit?

The City of San Diego does not allow business entities to make contributions to a candidate or to a candidate's campaign committee. Although your company may not make a contribution to the candidate, the owners and employees of your company can support the candidate with individual contributions. In addition, the company itself may make unlimited contributions to a general purpose recipient committee or primarily formed recipient committee that is making independent expenditures to support the candidate. Finally, your company may make its own independent expenditures, keeping in mind that if it spends $1,000 or more on such expenditures in a calendar year, it will become a political committee and be required to disclose the expenditures on a campaign statement.

My company is a sole proprietorship. May it make a contribution to a City candidate?

Yes. City candidates may accept contributions from sole proprietorships, which are treated as contributions from the individual operating the sole proprietorship, up to the $750/$1,350 per person limit. Contributions from all other types of business entities are prohibited.

I am a candidate. How much can I contribute to my own campaign?

There are no limits to the amount of your own money that you may contribute to your campaign. You are also not limited with regard to when you use your own money to support your candidacy. Keep in mind that although you may donate unlimited sums to your own campaign, personal loans to the campaign cannot exceed $100,000 at any one time.

Who can loan money to my campaign?

Any individual may loan money to your campaign, but because loans are considered "contributions," they may not exceed $750 (Council District elections) or $1,350 (Citywide elections).  As indicated above, any loans you personally make to your campaign are limited to a total of $100,000 at any one time.

I still have questions. How do I get help?

The ethics commission is available to provide telephonic or written advice regarding these matters.