Advisory Opinion 07-03
This Advisory Opinion responds to a candidate who asks: (1) whether a candidate may make a donation from personal funds to a non-profit organization between the time the candidate files nomination papers and the general election, and more specifically, (2) whether a candidate may make a donation from personal funds to a non-profit organization, if the purpose of the donation is to influence the candidate’s nomination or election to office.
The Campaign Spending Commission (“Commission”) responds in the affirmative to both questions.
Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”) section 11-200 Campaign contributions; restrictions against transfers, specifies in relevant part that a candidate, campaign treasurer, or candidate’s committee:
(b) (3) [m]ay make contributions from its campaign fund to any community service, educational, youth recreational, charitable, scientific, or literary organization; provided that in any election cycle, the total amount of all contributions from campaign funds and surplus funds shall be no more than the maximum amount that one person or other entity may contribute to that candidate pursuant to section 11-204(a); provided further that no contribution from campaign funds shall be made from the date the candidate files nomination papers to the date of the general election.”1 (Emphasis added.)
First, we address the issue of whether a candidate may make a donation, using personal funds, to a non-profit organization between the time the candidate files nomination papers and the general election. HRS section 11-200 prohibits the donation of campaign funds, rather than personal funds, to a non-profit organization. Thus, a donation of personal funds to a non-profit organization between the time the candidate files nomination papers and the general election is permissible. This donation would not be reportable as a donation or expenditure by the candidate, unless the donation was made to influence the candidate’s nomination or election to office.
Secondly, we address the issue of whether a candidate may make a donation from personal funds to a non-profit organization, if the purpose of the donation is to influence the candidate’s nomination or election to office.
We understand that a non-profit organization invited persons campaigning for office, including this candidate, to attend a “meet-the-candidate” forum. The organization asked these invited persons to consider making a donation to the organization to cover a portion of the costs of the event. The candidate intends to make a donation from personal funds and engage in political activity at the forum.
A “contribution” includes any gift, deposit of money, or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing an election for a Hawaii elective public or constitutional office.2 However, “a candidate’s expenditure of the candidate’s own funds or the making of a loan or advance in the pursuit of the candidate’s campaign shall not be a contribution for the purpose of this subpart3 but shall nevertheless be reportable as a campaign receipt.”4 (Emphases added.)
Based upon the foregoing, the candidate may make a donation from personal funds to attend a “meet the candidate” forum sponsored by a nonprofit organization.5 However, the candidate must report the use of personal funds to influence the candidate’s nomination or election as an “other receipt” and also as an “expenditure.”
We note that it would be permissible for the candidate to use campaign funds to pay a reasonable pro-rata portion of the organization’s administrative expenses for the event, to the non-profit organization, rather than using personal funds. This would not be considered a donation from campaign funds, and would be considered a valid expenditure. It would be reported in the Candidate Filing System using the category “Other” and filling in the field “Purpose of Expenditure” noting what the admin expenses were for, e.g. “admin expenses meet-the-candidate, tables, supplies.”
The Commission provides this Advisory Opinion as a means of stating its current interpretation of the Hawaii Election Campaign Contributions and Expenditures laws provided under HRS section 11-191, et seq. and the administrative rules of the Commission provided in chapter 2-14, Hawaii Administrative Rules. The Commission may adopt, revise, or revoke this Advisory Opinion upon the enactment of amendments to the Hawaii Revised Statutes or the adoption of administrative rules by the Commission.
Dated: Honolulu, Hawaii, May 9, 2007.
CAMPAIGN SPENDING COMMISSION
Steven E. Olbrich
Michael E. Weaver
1 The prohibition on contributions was added in Act 203, Session Laws of Hawaii 2005. Act 203’s legislative history provides little guidance, other than to include the prohibition in a list of statutory changes.
2 HRS section 11-191.
3 Hawaii’s campaign finance laws are codified in Hawaii Revised Statues chapter 11, Part XII, Part B.
4 HRS section 11-191.
5 These statutes, read together, are applicable to the facts presented in this request, rather than the presumption in Hawaii Administrative Rules section 2-14.1-14 which provides that “Any donation or expenditure by a candidate or candidate committee to or for a community or charitable organization shall be presumed to be campaign expenditure for reporting purposes unless clear evidence proves otherwise.”