While any politician, political party, or PAC worth its salt would be more than happy to receive your support in the form of cash or check, monetary gifts aren't the only donation recognized by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Fundraiser tickets, loans, office supplies, and even t-shirts can be considered campaign contributions. Any goods or services provided to a candidate or political committee goes against your $117,000 biennial contribution cap and is subject to the individual committee limits. If you're hanging onto your hard-earned cash but still want to find ways to help out your candidate, here are some things to know about other kinds of campaign contributions that will help you keep your support on the straight-and-narrow.
Donated Items and Services
Donations of supplies, furniture, business services, or anything else of value is considered an in-kind contribution, and the value of these items counts against the FEC's contribution limits. If, as a business owner, you offer a discount to a candidate or committee, then the amount of that discount will be considered a contribution.
Hosting a fundraiser in itself is not considered a campaign contribution, but expenses associated with those events are — if they exceed $1,000 for events that benefit a candidate or $2,000 for fundraisers benefiting a committee. If you purchase a ticket to a fundraiser, the cost of that ticket is deemed a contribution, even if the cost of the food and beverages you consume there is less than the ticket price. And the FEC even counts the purchase of a t-shirt as a campaign donation if the proceeds of that transaction benefit a campaign.
If you loan money to a campaign — even if you charge interest on that loan — then the amount that you lend is considered a contribution. As the candidate or committee pays you back, the contribution amount also decreases. But keep in mind that the amount you loan cannot exceed the contribution limits designated by the FEC.
For a few more campaign contribution rules, keep reading.
Volunteering personal services (such as organizing voter registration drives or door-to-door campaigning on a candidate's behalf) is not considered a contribution so long as no one is paying you to perform those services. Offering your home, renting your apartment complex's rec room, or using your church (or other non-commercially available event space) to host fundraising activities is also free of contribution limits. The FEC doesn't consider using your company's resources such as your office phone as a contribution but forbids these activities from interfering with your daily work. And keep in mind that you must reimburse your company for any facility use that exceeds "incidental use" (one hour per week or four hours per month).
Travel and Business Expenses
If you hit the campaign trail on behalf of a candidate, then you can spend up to $1,000 per election on travel-related expenses (or $2,000 per election on behalf of a party) before that amount is considered a contribution. Business owners can offer discounts to a candidate or committee on food or beverages, and as long as the discounted price is not lower than the cost of the items, it's not considered a contribution — up to the same limits as travel expenses. Lawyers and accountants can provide free services without the value of those services falling into the category of a donation, but only if they are helping that candidate or committee comply with federal campaign-finance law.
For more information, consult the Federal Election Commission's citizen's guide to campaign contributions. Be sure to check your state laws and regulations regarding contributions to local politicians and ballot measures.
Have nothing but yourself to donate to a political cause? See if these volunteer opportunities fit the bill.