Initiative 134, approved by voters in 1992, limited how much money a contributor may give certain candidates as well as contributions that corporations, labor organizations, associations and other donors who are not individuals may give to bona fide political party and caucus campaign committees. Contributions to other types of committees are not limited, except for a restriction during the last three weeks before the general election.
Contributions to fund certain activities are exempt from limits, which means that party and caucus committees may accept unlimited amounts from any contributor earmarked for:
- voter registration,*
- absentee ballot information*
- precinct caucuses*
- get-out-the vote campaigns*
- precinct judges or inspectors*
- ballot counting*
- slate cards (see below)
- sample ballots (see below)
- internal expenses or fund raising to pay for internal expenses without direct association with individual candidates, or
- an expenditure or contribution for independent expenditure or electioneering communication as defined in RCW 42.17A.005.
* When these activities are paid for with exempt funds, they cannot promote or advertise individual candidates. RCW 42.17A.405(15).
Slate cards & Sample ballots: What's the difference?
Sample ballots: A sample ballot has a list of the candidates that will appear on an upcoming ballot, with indications such as a check marks that indicate which candidates the sponsor of the sample ballot endorses. If a sample ballot is created and distributed according to the rules below, it is not an in-kind contribution to the candidates supported by it, and it may be paid for using a party committee’s exempt funds.
Slate Cards: A slate card is a list of candidates endorsed by the sponsor of the slate card. If created and distributed according to the rules below, a slate card is not an in-kind contribution to the candidates listed on the card and may be created and distributed using a party committee’s exempt funds.
In order not to count against a person's contribution limit to the candidates listed on it and to be paid for with exempt funds, a slate card or sample ballot must satisfy these criteria:
- It must list the names of at least three candidates for election to public office in Washington state and be distributed in a geographical area where voters are eligible to vote for at least three candidates listed. The candidate listing may include any combination of three or more candidates, whether the candidates are seeking federal, state, or local office in Washington.
- It may not be distributed through public political advertising, for example, through broadcast media, newspapers, magazines, billboards, or the like. It may be distributed through direct mail, telephone, electronic mail, websites, electronic bulletin boards, electronic billboards, or personal delivery.
- Content is limited to:
- Identifying each candidate – pictures may be used
- Office of position currently held
- Office sought
- Party affiliation
- Information about voting hours and locations.
- No biographical data on candidates and their positions on issues or statements about the sponsor's philosophy, goals, or accomplishments may be included.
- A slate card may not have
- The slate card or sample ballot is a stand-alone political advertisement. It may not be part of a more comprehensive message or combined in the same mailing or packet with any other information, including get-out-the vote material, candidate brochures, or statements about the sponsor's philosophy, goals, or accomplishments. Online, it must be segregated as a separate document. As a political advertisement, a slate card may include a statement that the candidates listed are endorsed by the sponsor of the slate card.
- A sample ballot may include ballot propositions which are on the local ballot, but it must exclude any statements, check marks or other indications showing support of or opposition to ballot propositions, and follow the guidelines given in WAC 390-17-030.
The party and caucus committees may use non-exempt funds for all expenditures. The committees must use non-exempt funds for candidate contributions and any expenditure not included in the above list.
Segregating Exempt from Non-Exempt Funds
- Separate bank accounts must be maintained for exempt and non-exempt funds.
- When a committee receives a contribution check or contribution by other written instrument, the recipient cannot split the contribution between its exempt and non-exempt accounts. Separate written instruments must be used to make contributions to an exempt account. WAC 390-17-065.
- "Once exempt, always exempt." Exempt funds may not be moved to a non-exempt funds account.
- Non-exempt funds may be moved to an exempt funds account.
Just as the exempt and non-exempt funds are segregated, so are the records for each account. Each account must be registered with the PDC and contribution and expenditure reports are filed for each account. Because of the extra work involved in having both exempt and non-exempt accounts, the PDC staff's advice to legislative district and party committees is to open an exempt account only when necessary: the committee receives more than $6,000 in a year from a contributor subject to limits or the committee receives a transfer of exempt funds from another party committee.