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Campaign Contributions

Note that the contribution limits discussed on this page apply only to elections taking place after 2015.

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 $550 per election to a City Council candidate or $1,050 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 $550 to a Council candidate for the primary election and another $550 to the same candidate for the general election?

Yes. The $550 contribution limit applies to each election. For Council races, you may contribute a total of $1,100 per candidate over the two elections. For Citywide races, you may contribute a total of $2,100 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 $550 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 $1,100 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 can contribute additional funds to a general purpose recipient committee or primarily formed recipient committee that is supporting Candidate A. 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 signs to post. Keep in mind, however, that if you make independent expenditures of more than $1,000 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 $550/$1,050 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 cannot 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 can 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 can 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 $550/$1,050 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 make loans to my campaign?

A friend or relative can loan money to your campaign, but such a loan would be considered a contribution and may not exceed $550 (Council district elections) or $1,050 (Citywide elections). If you obtain a loan for your campaign from a bank on terms available to members of the public, then the loan does not constitute a contribution. As indicated above, any loans you personally make to your campaign, including loans obtained from a bank, 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.


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