Automatic Affiliation

A political committee established, financed, maintained or controlled by a corporation, union, trade association, collective bargaining organization, federation of labor unions or any membership organization shares a contribution limit with that entity.  For example, the Association of Widget Manufacturers shares a contribution limit with the Widget Manufacturers PAC and the two of them jointly may not give a legislative candidate more than $1,000 in the primary and $1,000 in the general.  Additionally, they may not jointly give a state, county or legislative district political party committee more than $5,000 per year or a legislative caucus campaign committee more than $1,000 per year.  (The contribution limits of RCW 42.17A.405 do NOT apply to contributions given to an “exempt funds” account of a state, county or legislative district political party committee.  The political party, however, may not use these accounts for the direct support of individual candidates).

In addition, there are other structural relationships that trigger automatic affiliation and, potentially, shared contribution limits.  As mentioned above, a PAC always shares a contribution limit with the entity which established it or finances, maintains or controls it.  However, if this entity is part of a structure having national, state and local bodies, the PAC may also share a limit with these other organizational units and any PACs they may have formed.  Specifically, two or more entities share a limit if one of the entities is:

  • a corporation and the other is a subsidiary, branch or division of the corporation;
  • a national or international labor union, or state body of the national or international union, and the other is a local union or other subordinate organization;
  • a trade association or state body of a trade association and the other is a branch or local unit of the trade association;
  • a national or state collective bargaining organization and the other is a branch or local unit of the national or state collective bargaining organization;
  • a national or international federation of labor unions, or a state federation of labor unions, and the other is a local body of such federation;
  • a membership organization and the other is a local unit or branch of such membership organization; and
  • any entity referenced above and the other is a political committee established, financed, maintained or controlled by it.

Under certain circumstances, however, the subsidiaries of a corporation, the local units of a union, or the local units of any membership organization (or any of the other entities mentioned above) may have separate contribution limits.  In the event neither the national nor state level of an organization (or the PAC of the national or state entities) contributes to a candidate or gives any indication that it supports or opposes a candidate, and the local units independently decide to contribute to a candidate for state office, each local unit has a separate contribution limit.

In other words, if the national and state entity, or their PACs, do not participate in a candidate’s campaign, then each of the local units may each have their own limits with respect to the candidate.

For example, John Johnson is running for the legislature in the 50th legislative district.  The Widget Manufacturers Association is structured such that it has a national body (which has a PAC), a state body (which also has a PAC) and three local bodies (which also have separate PACs). 

So long as neither the national or state body or either of their PACs give a contribution to Johnson, or make an independent expenditure supporting Johnson, or otherwise communicate to the locals that they should support Johnson, then each of the local units (in conjunction with its PAC) may give Johnson $1,000 for the primary election and $1,000 for the general election.

De Facto Affiliation

Other entities—besides those that are part of the same organization—may become affiliated and share a contribution limit.  For example, three people decide to establish a PAC, collect money from like-minded folks and give to candidates.  If these same people set up another PAC—anticipating that they will then be able to give twice as much to a candidate than if they had only one PAC—they will be disappointed to learn that, in fact, the two PACs share one limit because they are operated by the same individuals.  

Two or more entities are treated as one and share a limit if one of the entities is established, financed, maintained or controlled by the other, as evidenced by any one of the following factors:

  • Whether one entity owns a controlling interest in the voting stock or securities of another entity,
  • Whether one entity has authority or the ability to direct or participate, other than through a vote as a member, in the governance of another entity through provisions of constitution, bylaws, contract or other formal or informal procedure or has authority or the ability to hire, appoint, demote or otherwise control, other than through a vote as a member, the officers or other decision making employees or members of another entity,
  • Whether (i) one entity has a common or overlapping membership with another which indicates either a formal or ongoing relationship between the two organizations or the creation of a successor entity and (ii) the entity has an active or significant role in the formation of the other entity and (iii) the entities have similar patterns of contributions or contributors which indicate a formal or ongoing relationship between the entities, or
  • Whether one entity provides, causes or arranges, funds, services or goods in a significant amount or on an ongoing basis, through direct or indirect means to the other entity, for less than full consideration. Full consideration includes the payment of membership dues.

WAC 390-16-309(3).

Single Contributor Committees

A contribution by a political committee with funds that have all been contributed by one person who exercises exclusive control over the distribution of the funds of the political committee is a contribution by the controlling person. RCW 42.17A.455(1)