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Independent Expenditures in California Elections

Independent expenditure committee reports are required to make the same disclosures as other campaign committees

By Chris Micheli, January 14, 2022 4:24 pm

California’s Political Reform Act permits independent expenditures. The general definition of an “independent expenditure” is an expenditure for a communication, such as a website, newspaper, TV or direct mail advertisement that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.

In California, the law is found in Government Code Title 9 (Political Reform), Chapter 5 (Limitations on Contributions), Article 5 (Independent Expenditures), which includes Sections 85500 – 85505. In addition, the FPPC has Campaign Disclosure Manual 6 entitled “Independent Expenditure Committees.” It is 69 pages in length and contains information on committee qualifications; advertisement disclosures; and, reporting requirements.

In terms of the statutory provisions applicable to independent expenditures, they are contained in Chapter 5. Government Code Section 85500(a) requires a committee that makes independent expenditures of $1,000 or more during an election cycle in connection with a candidate for elective state office or state ballot measure to file online or electronically a report with the Secretary of State disclosing the making of the independent expenditure.

Independent expenditure committee reports are required to make the same disclosures as other campaign committees and must be filed within 24 hours of the time the independent expenditure is made.

Section 85500(b) specifies that an expenditure may not be considered independent, and is therefore to be treated as a contribution from the person making the expenditure to the candidate on whose behalf, or for whose benefit, the expenditure is made, if the expenditure is made under any of the following circumstances:

  • The expenditure is made with the cooperation of, or in consultation with, the candidate on whose behalf, or for whose benefit, the expenditure is made, or any controlled committee or any agent of the candidate.
  • The expenditure is made in concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, the candidate on whose behalf, or for whose benefit, the expenditure is made, or any controlled committee or any agent of the candidate.
  • The expenditure is made under any arrangement, coordination, or direction with respect to the candidate or the candidate’s agent and the person making the expenditure.

Section 85501 provides that a controlled committee of a candidate may not make independent expenditures and may not contribute funds to another committee for the purpose of making independent expenditures to support or oppose other candidates.

Section 85505 requires the Secretary of State to include on the Internet Web site of the Secretary of State’s office, as part of the campaign finance activity that is publicly disclosed, any independent expenditure that is reported with respect to a candidate for elective state office and a statewide ballot measure.

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