BY PRINCE CHESTNUT
Campaign contributions are necessary for any successful run for state office. There are laws that govern how and when donations can be made to political campaigns.
Persons, associations, businesses, organizations and political action committees give contributions to candidates. Businesses are treated as persons under the law. Political action committees (PACs) are defined in the following manner: “Any political committee, club, association, political party, or other group of one or more persons, whether in-state or out-of-state, which receives or anticipates receiving contributions and makes or anticipates making expenditures to or on behalf of any Alabama state or local elected official, proposition, candidate, principal campaign committee, or other political action committee.”
Contributions greater than $100 must be reported in some detail to the Secretary of State’s Office. This is true for elections for county and state office. Contrary to popular belief, contributions to a person’s campaign fund are not personal funds. It is illegal to use campaign funds for personal expenses. It is unlawful to pay for personal living expenses, so a candidate or politician cannot pay for clothes, cars and going out to the movies.
Campaign donations cannot be given as bribes and cannot be given with the intent to corruptly influence the official actions of the public official. People engaged in this behavior face indictments and potential prison time. There have been several cases of this over the last seven years in this state.
Contributions may be used for expenditures that are related to performing the duties of the office held, which may include food purchases for campaign and office–related matters, payment to administrative staff for work on a campaign, transportation for campaign and office–related matters and advertisements.
While I have not personally observed the same, I have deduced that associations meet during election season and determine who they will support for office. Once the decision is made, the association will have a member to call the candidate and inform him or simply send a donation. Associations typically donate to people they see as winners. If a candidate is seen as a winner and a person who gets things done, nearly every major association will support him. Thus, it is not uncommon that associations of competing ideological groups will support the same candidate. Effective associations and organizations will rarely risk unnecessarily making an enemy of a candidate or an official seen as a sure winner.
The typical mode of support is a check that the candidate or public official finds in the box of his campaign mailing address. I have never had any association, business, organization or group to donate to my campaign and attempt to attach conditions to the donation. If they did, I would not accept it. From time to time, you will hear of a candidate returning a donation from a group because the media or constituents dislike the group. However, funds donated to a campaign can help an elected official’s district when the elected official takes funds that are donated and makes donations to worthy charities.
Donations to campaigns are considered free speech under the constitution. Campaigns are not free; they are expensive. Being a good candidate alone does not make a person electable. Candidates must have support through donations of time, money or “get out the vote” efforts. If you support someone, you should donate your time to help persons you actually believe will do right by all and not merely for a few.Together, if we wisely select leaders during election time, we can create a culture of trust and winning.
Prince Chestnut is state representative for Dallas County.