This page contains issues that have attracted special interest from the public.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), the United States Supreme Court ruled that independent expenditures by corporations made to influence candidate elections cannot be limited, because doing so would not comply with the First Amendment. Although the decision concerned the application of a federal statute, it also calls into question OCPF’s longstanding interpretation of M.G.L. Chapter 55, Section 8 as prohibiting both contributions and independent expenditures by corporations to support of oppose candidates or political committees.

Section 8 states, in part, that business corporations, and other entities specified in Section 8, may not “expend or contribute, any money or other valuable thing for the purpose of aiding, promoting or preventing the nomination or election of any person to public office, or aiding or promoting or antagonizing the interest of any political party.” (Emphasis added). In light of Citizens United, the office will apply Section 8 as follows: Corporations or other entities named in the statute may still not make contributions to support or oppose candidates or political parties. In addition, if a corporation or other entity which may not contribute under Section 8 makes an independent expenditure, a report disclosing the independent expenditure must be filed, as required by M.G.L. Chapter 55, Section 18A.

If a corporation or its agents make an expenditure not “in concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, any candidate, or any nonelected political committee organized on behalf of a candidate or agent of such candidate” it is an independent expenditure. See M.G.L. Chapter 55, Sections 1 and 18A. On the other hand, a corporate expenditure that is made in concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, would be prohibited by Section 8.

A group organized to raise money for the purpose of making independent expenditures is required to organize as an Independent Expenditure PAC. These committees are sometimes called "superpacs." OCPF has issued regulations (970 CMR 2.17) and an interpretive bulletin (IB-10-03) to provide guidance to such groups.

Click here to read the full decision.

Section 18D requires vendors who receive $5,000 or more from a political committee to provide the committee with a detailed account of all subsequent expenditures of $500 or more that the vendors, on behalf of the political committee, make to subvendors who provide goods or services to the vendor. A committee must electronically file subvendor reports based on information provided to the committee by the vendors. OCPF has issued regulations (970 CMR 2.18(2)) and IB-10-04 to provide guidance regarding this requirement.

Section 18 states that every political committee organized on behalf of a candidate that files with OCPF and every ballot question committee that files with OCPF, “which receives and deposits a contribution in the amount of $500 or more after the eighteenth day, but more than 72 hours, before the date of a special, preliminary, primary or general election, shall file a report” to disclose the contributions within 72 hours of depositing the contribution. OCPF has issued regulations (970 CMR 1.18) and IB-10-02 to provide guidance regarding this requirement.

Section 18F requires individuals or groups (other than political committees) to disclose electioneering communications. Electioneering communications are defined in Section 1 of the statute, and OCPF has issued a regulation (970 CMR 1.14) to provide guidance regarding this requirement.

Section 18E allows candidates to create separate legal defense, recount or inauguration funds and state political parties to create legal defense funds. OCPF has issued regulations (970 CMR 1.20) and a Memorandum (M-10-02) to provide guidance regarding the creation of such funds.

The campaign finance law prohibits the use of public resources to influence voters in an election, including ballot questions. OCPF is often asked about the application of the prohibition to Proposition 2½ override and debt exclusion questions. This section provides an overview of the issue, with links to other OCPF materials that may prove helpful in answering your questions.

In the 1978 case of Anderson v. City of Boston, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that public resources may not be used for political campaign purposes. The court found that the city's appropriation of almost $1 million for an organized effort to convince voters to support a state ballot question was prohibited by the campaign finance law, M.G.L. c.55.

Though the Anderson decision came two years before the passage of Proposition 2½, it has its most common impact in recent years in local override and debt exclusion elections. Cities and towns may not, according to Anderson, use public resources to persuade voters to support or oppose a question put to voters in an election. In addition, the state Constitution prohibits the publicly funded distribution of any information to voters concerning a ballot question without express statutory authority.

Public Resources includes anything that is paid for through public funds (taxes or fees), such as paper, postage, staff time, equipment and property.

The campaign finance law does not, however, prohibit public officials and employees from participating in the public discussion of issues, holding and attending forums and meetings, and supporting or joining ballot question committees. It also does not prohibit the use of public facilities by political groups such as ballot question committees, as long as a facility is available to all such groups under the same terms and conditions. In addition, it should be noted that the Anderson limitations apply to elections only: activities concerning town meeting only are not regulated. In the event of questions that are on both the town meeting warrant and the election ballot, however, the prohibition may apply.

OCPF has developed several publications to provide further explanation of the public resources issue:

  • Interpretive Bulletin 91-01: The Application of the Campaign Finance Law to the Use of Governmental Resources for Political Purposes

  • Interpretive Bulletin 92-02: Activities of Public Officials in Support of or Opposition to Ballot Questions.

  • Campaign Finance Guide: Public Employees, Public Resources and Political Activity, which is intended to answer questions concerning political and fundraising activity by government workers. A one-page fact sheet summarizing the guide is also available.

The office has also issued several advisory opinions dealing with the public resources issue. To review the opinions, use the search term "public resources" in our online searchable database.

Officials and other parties with further questions are encouraged to contact OCPF.

The campaign finance law prohibits the use of public resources to influence voters in an election, including ballot questions. OCPF is often asked about the application of the prohibition to Proposition 2½ override and debt exclusion questions. This section provides an overview of the issue, with links to other OCPF materials on this issue.

M.G.L. Chapter 55, the Campaign Finance Law, regulates political activity by public employees and the use of public buildings and resources in campaigns. Public employees who take part in political campaigns and the candidates and committees they support should be aware of these sections of the law.

Section 13: Public Employees

No person employed for compensation by agencies of the Commonwealth, its cities, towns and counties, other than an elected official, may directly or indirectly solicit or receive a contribution or anything of value for any political purpose (e.g., candidates, parties, PACs, ballot question committees).

A public employee may not:

  • sell tickets to a political fundraiser or otherwise solicit or collect political contributions in any manner, including in person, by phone, by e-mail or by conventional mail.
  • sponsor or host a political fundraising event.
  • allow his or her name to be used in a fundraising letter, advertisement, phone call or e-mail.
  • help identify people to be targeted for political fundraising.
  • serve as treasurer of a political committee.
  • use social media to solicit political contributions, e.g., by administering a Facebook page that solicits contributions. See IB-04-01.

A public employee may:

  • contribute to candidates and attend fundraisers.
  • run for office (a employee must organize a campaign committee if he or she plans to raise any money).
  • work for campaigns and committees in a non-fundraising capacity, such as holding signs, stuffing envelopes, hosting coffees or other meetings, or being a member of a committee.

Section 14: Government Buildings

Soliciting or receiving campaign contributions in a government building is prohibited. Examples include city and town halls, public schools, libraries, police and fire stations and public works buildings.

No one (not just public employees) may:

  • sell tickets to a fundraiser or otherwise solicit or collect political contributions in a public building.
  • send a solicitation into a government building, such as by phone, mail or e-mail.
  • use a public building as the site of a fundraiser, the return address for contributions or the contact phone number for buying tickets to a fundraiser.
  • post in a public building any advertisement for a fundraiser.

Use of Public Resources

Public resources (government vehicles, office equipment and supplies and the paid time of public employees) may not be used for political campaign purposes, such as the election of a candidate or the passage or defeat of a ballot question. For example, a public employee may not, during his work day, render campaign service to a candidate or ballot question committee or use office postage or equipment to distribute campaign material.

For more information, download our Campaign Finance Guide: Public Employees, Public Resources and Political Activity.

Section 18 now requires candidates for mayor in Municipalities with a total population of less than 75,000 to file reports with OCPF. The office has issued regulations (970 CMR 1.16) to provide guidance regarding this requirement.

Candidates and committees may receive contributions by credit or debit card, subject to certain statutory and regulatory restrictions.

Committees receiving such contributions must use a merchant provider to process transactions and receive funds from a card holder's card company. A debit card contribution is processed in a similar fashion, except the funds come from a contributor's designated bank account, not a credit card provider.

Recipient committees must report the gross amount of a contribution, not the net amount that is forwarded by the merchant provider after taking its fee. For example, while an individual may make a $100 contribution by credit card, a smaller amount is actually received by the committee. Nevertheless, the committee's campaign finance report should disclose a contribution of $100 from that individual.

For more information, see OCPF's regulations concerning credit card contributions (970 CMR 1.09) and Memorandum M-04-01: Contributions to Political Committees by Credit or Debit Card.

Those with further questions about the credit or debit card process are advised to contact OCPF by phone (617-979-8300) or e-mail.

Section 5A of the campaign finance law states that:

No candidate or individual holding elective public office shall establish, finance, maintain, control or serve as a principal officer of a political action committee; provided, however, that each of the following may authorize one such political committee to which this section shall not apply: a majority of the members of each political party who are members of the house of representatives, and a majority of the members of each political party who are members of the senate.

In addition, Section 5 prohibits the Secretary of the Commonwealth, any city or town clerk who conducts elections, or any election commissioner or registrar of voters from serving as the chair, treasurer or "other principal officer" of any political committee, including candidate committees, PACs and party committees (excluding his or her own candidate committee).

The language of the relevant section is:

The state secretary, a city or town clerk, or a member of a board of registrars of voters or election commission in any city or town shall not serve as the chairman, treasurer, or other principal officer of any political committee, but any such public officer may serve as the chairman or principal officer, other than treasurer, of the political committee organized on his own behalf. This paragraph shall not apply to city or town clerks who do not administer elections.

Those with further questions are encouraged to contact OCPF.

Various groups become involved in municipal elections, including ballot questions such as Proposition 2½ overrides. In some circumstances, groups are required to register as political committees and disclose their election activity under the Massachusetts campaign finance law; in other circumstances, no disclosure is required. It is therefore important to know the various features of these groups and their legal obligations.

M.G.L. c. 55, the Campaign Finance law, requires groups to register as political committees if they raise money to support or oppose candidates, ballot questions, or political parties. These committees must file periodic campaign finance reports with the town clerk or election commission and are subject to a number of restrictions. In contrast, associations that are not political committees are not subject to these requirements. Individuals and groups interested in becoming involved in municipal elections should be aware of the distinctions among these groups:

Ballot question committee: a political committee that is organized to support or oppose a specific ballot question, such as a tax override or debt exclusion (not a town meeting article).

  • A group that solicits or receives contributions to support or oppose a ballot question must register with the town clerk or election commission and file disclosure reports before and after the election.
  • Ballot question committees may receive contributions in any amount and from any source, including corporations.
  • Ballot question committees must dissolve after the relevant election and dispose of any residual funds by making a payment to a charitable or other entity specified in the statute. Committee officials may organize a separate association for non-election-related activity, but ballot question committee funds may not be transferred to the association.

Political action committee (PAC): a political committee that is organized to support or oppose candidates.

  • Like ballot question committees, PACs file periodic campaign finance disclosure reports.
  • Unlike ballot question committees, PACs may not solicit or receive contributions from corporations and may accept no more than $500 from any individual in a calendar year.
  • A PAC may remain in existence indefinitely, but must file periodic campaign finance reports.

Association: a previously existing or new group formed to influence officials or the public concerning a public policy (non-election) issue (sometimes referred to as an issue group).

  • An association may be organized to keep residents informed regarding a particular issue, influence town meeting, or lobby selectmen or other municipal committees or boards. An association has no campaign finance filing requirements as long as it is not involved in supporting or opposing a ballot question, candidates or a political party.
  • An association may make expenditures to support or oppose a ballot question from its general treasury without having to organize a ballot question committee. Such expenditures would need to be disclosed on a form filed with the town clerk or election commission. If an association raises funds specifically for the purpose of ballot question activity, it must register as a ballot question committee and segregate those funds from any other accounts.
  • As long as an association is not raising funds for the purpose of supporting or opposing a ballot question or candidates, it is not subject to any contribution limits and is not required to file reports under the campaign finance law.
  • An association may remain in existence indefinitely.

Section 9A allows electronic transfers of funds to a PAC from a contributor's funds through his or her employer, such as deductions from wages. The maximum that can be contributed by payroll deduction is $500, which is also the maximum that can be given to a PAC by an individual. Aggregate contributions to any individual PAC above $50, up to and including $500 in the aggregate, may only be made by either personal check or electronic transfer, such as payroll deduction.

Section 9A allows such transfers to be made only after the contributor completes a card authorizing such an action and submits it to the bank or employer. The authorization may also be revoked at any time by the contributor, also in writing.

Those with further questions on the statute should contact OCPF.

In recent years there has been a surge in the political use of the Internet and e-mail. OCPF Interpretive Bulletin IB-04-01 answers the most frequently asked questions regarding the extent to which the Internet and e-mail may be utilized by candidates, political committees or other persons in connection with elections occurring in Massachusetts, including an in-depth discussion of the expenditures that may be made for Internet access, the services that may be provided to candidates or committees to help them establish websites, the use of links to campaign websites, and access to government websites and e-mail networks, and limitations relating to the political use of social media.

The campaign finance law requires the director of OCPF to adjust two specific contribution limits every two years based upon the Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculated for the Greater Boston area. The first is the limit on the amount an individual may contribute to a people's committee during a calendar year (M.G.L. c. 55, § 1). The second is the amount of any individual contribution that may be collected, i.e. bundled, by a regulated intermediary or conduit before certain disclosure requirements of the campaign finance law are triggered (M.G.L. c. 55, § 10A). The limit in effect until December 2015 is $161.

OCPF Interpretive Bulletin IB-06-01 answers the most frequently asked questions regarding the applicability of the Massachusetts campaign finance law, M.G.L. c. 55, to various types of advertisements or other communications that might be viewed as "issue oriented," but which might also be seen as praising or disparaging a candidate and provides guidance regarding whether such communications involve the making of expenditures subject to the requirements of the Massachusetts campaign finance law.

The candidates for the six statewide offices in Massachusetts (Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary and Auditor) are eligible to receive partial public funding of their campaigns in return for agreeing to spending limits.

This program has been in existence in some form since the 1970s. The program is voluntary. However, all candidates, must declare whether they plan to participate by the time they file nomination papers. Any candidate who does not file the required form with OCPF is barred from appearing on the ballot.

The spending limits are set by M.G.L. Chapter 55C and vary according to the office sought, but they are subject to adjustment: those who do not choose to participate must, if they are opposed by a participating candidate, notify OCPF of their anticipated maximum spending in the upcoming campaign. If the planned spending by a non-participant is higher than the participant's statutory limit for that office, the participant's limit is increased to the highest figure cited by a non-participant.

Massachusetts does not have a similar program for other non-statewide candidates, so currently there are no public funds available to candidates for other offices, such as the Legislature or county posts.

New Public Financing Materials Available

OCPF has issued three documents for candidates who are seeking statewide office regarding the Massachusetts Public Financing System. The following documents are available in .pdf file format for viewing and downloading: