What is a Political Committee?

Any person, except a candidate or an individual dealing with his or her own resources) who expects to receive contributions or make expenditures to support or oppose a candidate or ballot measure.  The disclosure law applies to most groups organized to influence an election, such as:

  • Political parties,
  • Political action committees (PACs),
  • Single-issue groups that that organize to influence a particular election, including ad hoc groups that form around an issue and members of the group pool their personal funds, and
  • Proponents and opponents of state or local ballot measures that raise or spend money influence the election.

An organization that spends existing funds to influence the outcome of an election should review the Primary Purpose Test Guidelines to determine whether the organization must register as a political committee.

Registering the Committee

Generally committees must register with the PDC within two weeks of being organized.  However, if a committee organizes within three weeks of an election and will be active in that election, it must register within three business days of organizing.  The registration (PDC Form C-1pc) identifies the committee's name, purpose, location, officers, as well as other information.  See the PDC's Political Committee instruction manual for restrictions on naming the committee.  The registration is filed just with the PDC.  There is no county filing requirement.  Registration exceptions:  A committee whose sole purpose is to support or oppose a local ballot measure in a jurisdiction with less than 1,000 registered voters does not register or have other disclosure requirements.  A committee domiciled in a state other than Washington State that meets the criteria established in WAC 390-16-049 discloses activity on PDC Form C-5 instead of registering and filing contribution and expenditure reports.

When registering, the committee will choose a reporting option based on how much money the committee intends to raise and spend.  Choosing mini reporting means that the committee limits itself to receiving and spending $5,000 or less and self-imposes a contribution limit of $500 in the aggregate from a single source.  (These limits are in place for the entire campaign for ballot measure and single year committees and during a calendar year for continuing committees.)  A committee that select mini reporting registers, but does not disclose contributions or expenditures.  Mini reporting should be selected only after the committee has carefully considering how much money it will need to raise and spend and is certain the limitations will not be exceeded.  A committee that is unsure how much money will be raised or does not wish to limit how much may be raised should select the full reporting option.  Selecting full reporting means that the committee must file regular reports disclosing contributions and expenditures.

Electronic Filing

All committees may e-file the registration as well as contribution & expenditure reports.  Continuing committees that spend or or expect to spend at least $5,000 are required to e-file.  Ballot measure committees that reach the $5,000 threshold in a single campaign must e-file.  The PDC provides free electronic filing software and training to all political committees.  Electronic filing information and instructions can be found on the PDC website.

Reports & Due Dates

The Index of Forms explains the purpose of each report and when it is due.  The PDC calendar shows actual report due dates.  Reporting dates are also programmed into the ORCA software.  Generally,

  • Deposits or expenditures made before the campaign registers are disclosed when the C-1 is filed.
  • Through May of the election year, deposits and expenditures are reported on the 10th of each month.  A committee that deposits or spends less than $200 in a month, can choose not to file a monthly report until the contributions or expenditures to be reported exceed $200.  A candidate who does not appear on the primary election ballot continues to file monthly reports through the end of August.
  • Starting in June, each deposit is reported on the following Monday.
  • Expenditure reports are filed 21 and 7 days before the election and on the 10th of the month following the election.

Additionally, during the week before the primary election and the three weeks before the general election, a committee must file a special report within 48 hours of receiving $1,000 or more from a single source in the aggregate during the special reporting period.  Any contributions received outside of the special reporting period do not count towards the $1,000 threshold.

Bank Accounts

A politicaly committee must open a bank account upon receiving a monetary contribution.  Contributions must be deposited within five business days of receipt.  The name on the account should be the committee's name on the C-1.  Most banks will require the committee to have an Employer Identification Number, which is obtained from the Internal Revenue Service.  (The PDC's Committee manual explains IRS contact options.)

Campaign Books

The key to complying with campaign disclosure requirements is to keep detailed records of each contributions and expenditure and file reports on time.  Keep all campaign records for five years after the election.  Campaign books include bank statements, deposit slips, canceled checks, checkbook register as well as receipts, invoices, copies of contribution checks, notes or documents regarding orders placed or loans, etc.  A ledger, journal, or similar record may be maintained  to identify contributions (contributor information, amount, and date received) and expenditures (vendor, item or service provided, and cost).

Campaign books must be available for public inspection during the last eight days before an election.

Campaign Contributions

Voters passed I-276 to establish the Public Disclosure Commission and Washington's disclosure requirements as a means for making government more transparent and creating a mechanism that allowed the public to follow the money" in campaigns.  Committees should take care to record each contribution that it receives.  For contributions the committee receives, the allowed limit for cash - actual currency - is $100.  A contribution bigger than that must be made by written instrument.  A committee may keep aggregate anonymous contributions up to $300 or 1% of the total contributions received, whichever is greater.  Excess anonymous contributions the committee receives must be deposited and then turned over to the state by sending to the PDC a committee check for the excess amount made payable to the State General Fund.

No more than $5,000 may be accepted by a political committee, excluding ballot measure committees, from a single source other than a bona fide state party committee during the last 21 days before a general election.  Other than this timing restriction,there are no limits on the contributions given to committees, except for bona fide party committees and caucus campaign funds.

Political committees that contribute to candidates are restricted to using written instruments when making contributions (no currency) and observing these limits:

 

Amount Per Election Office Sought
$2,000

State Executive

Judicial Office

Port Commissioner*

$1,000

State Senator or Representative

County Office

Mayor, City Council

School Director

Hospital Commissioner**

 

"Per election" means each time the candidate's name is on the ballot.  The candidate manual contains very complete information about when contributions may be received, how to handle contributions received for an election where the candidate will not appear on the ballot, what to do with contributions when the candidate decides to run for a different office or otherwise end the campaign before the election, and many other situations.

Bona fide political party and caucus campaign committees' limits are determined by the number of registered voters in the jurisdiction where the candidate seeks office and are found here.

Note that some cities have enacted and enforce lower limits.  There are no contribution limits in effect for candidates running for local offices that are not listed here.

*  Only candidates running for commissioner of Ports of Seattle or Tacoma are subject to limits (districts with more than 200,000 registered voters).

** Only candidates running for commissioner in King County Hospital Dists. 1 and 2 and Snohomish County Hospital Dist. 2 (districts with a population exceeding 150,000).

Political Advertising

Generally, political ads of all types must identify the sponsor of the ad.  In partisan campaigns, all ads must contain the candidate's party preference.  Details about these and other requirements can be found in the Political Advertising brochure.


This brochure is intended to be an overview of the subjects with which committee organizers and officers must become familiar.  More complete instructions are found in the PDC's manuals.  The information contained in online instructions has been distilled from the requirements set out in RCW 42.17A and Title 390 WAC, as well as the Public Disclosure Commission's declaratory orders and interpretations. Care has been taken to make the instructions accurate and concise.  Nevertheless, the instructions cannot be substituted for the applicable laws and rules