Campaign Finance Instructions
Campaign Finance Reports
Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin Statutes
Candidates are required to file periodic campaign finance reports on the dates listed below. Candidates for local office whose names do not appear on the primary ballot are not required to file a pre-primary report.
When filing a campaign finance report, use the long form (ETHCF-2L) if there were any transactions during the reporting period. The short form (ETHCF-2a) may be used only if you did not receive contributions, make disbursements, or incur obligations during the reporting period. Please note that the Ethics ID Number referenced on these forms does not apply to local candidates.
|Report||Reporting Period||Filing Deadline|
|January Continuing||July 1 – December 31, 2019||January 15, 2020|
|Spring Pre-Primary||January 1 – February 3, 2019||February 10, 2020|
|Spring Pre-Election (if primary is held)||February 3 – March 23, 2020||March 30, 2020|
|Spring Pre-Election (if no primary)||January 1 – March 23, 2020||March 30, 2020|
|July Continuing||March 24 – June 30, 2020, or
January 1 – June 30, 2020
|July 15, 2020|
|January Continuing||July 1 – December 31, 2020||January 15, 2021|
Eligibility for Exemption
Candidates who meet the following criteria are exempt from filing a finance report:
- Candidate anticipates not accepting contributions, making disbursements, or incurring loans and other obligations in an aggregate amount exceeding $2,000 in a calendar year.
- Candidate or treasurer signs and dates request for exemption on campaign registration statement.
Financial Records Kept During Exemption
- When candidates are exempt, they are not required to file any campaign finance reports. However, the candidate or treasurer is required to keep an adequate record of all contributions and all expenditures.
- Maintaining these records is especially important in the event of unexpected large contributions or expenses exceeding $2,000. The information is then readily available for the candidate to immediately amend their campaign registration statement.
- A candidate who is exempt from filing campaign finance reports may use a personal account as the campaign depository. A separate campaign depository account is not required, but the candidate must provide the account number for whichever account will be used.
- If a decision is made to exceed the $2,000 limit on contributions and disbursements, the candidate must amend their campaign registration statement immediately.
- The candidate/committee is required to file a campaign finance report beginning with the next regular report. The first report must cover all financial activity from the time of registration or from the date of the last financial report before going on exemption.
An in-kind contribution would be any goods, service or property offered to the campaign committee free or at less than the usual cost. For example, if a campaign worker purchases stamps that are used for a mailing and is not reimbursed for the cost of stamps, the value of the stamps is an in-kind contribution to the campaign committee from the campaign worker.
When an individual is paid to work on behalf of a candidate by a political committee or some other individual, the payment for those services is an in-kind contribution to the campaign committee. Consultant services are often provided to a campaign committee in this manner.
If a political committee or individual offers to provide food and beverages for a fundraiser at less than ordinary market price, the difference between the ordinary market price and the cost to the campaign is an in-kind contribution from the political committee or individual.
Certain contributions are prohibited by Wisconsin law:
- Anonymous contributions of more than $10
- Contributions in cash of more than $100
- Contributions given in the name of someone other than the contributor (laundered)
- Contributions from cooperatives or corporations
- Contributions in excess of limits set by law
Pre-Election Spending for Incumbents
Wisconsin Statute 11.33
To the greatest extent possible, any communications using public funds shall be avoided during an election period. These include newsletters, flyers, etc., that use municipal funds in any way, such as postage or copying costs. The election period runs from December 1, the first day to circulate nomination papers, until the day of the election.
Wisconsin Statute 11.20
Some candidates and committees choose not to terminate their registered status after an election, even if they’re eligible to do so. There is no limit on how long a candidate or committee remains registered. Every registered candidate or committee must file continuing reports until a termination report is filed with the City Clerk’s Office. The January continuing campaign finance report covers activity from July 1 through December 31. The July continuing campaign finance report covers activity from January 1 through June 30.
Failure to File Reports
State Statute 11.20(13) reads, “In the event of failure of a candidate or treasurer to file a report or statement required by this chapter by the time prescribed by law, action may be commenced against the candidate, the campaign treasurer, or the candidate’s personal campaign committee, if any, or any combination of them.”
The Dane County District Attorney may impose fines on local candidates who stop filing continuing reports without terminating their registration.
- Every contribution must be itemized (date, amount, name, and address), even donations of $20 or less. Anonymous donations of up to $10 per donor may be accepted.
- Every disbursement exceeding $20 must be itemized.
- An occupation must be provided for any individual donor of over $200.
- All Political Action Committees, Independent Expenditure Committees, conduits, and political parties register with the state, even if they are only active at the municipal level.
- A referendum committee does not have to register until it collects or spends over $10,000 in a calendar year.
- A recall committee must register before circulating recall petitions.
- A committee may claim exempt status if it does not collect or spend more than $2,000 in a calendar year.
- An elected official may form a second committee to pursue another office.
There is no limit on the amount of money local candidates may contribute to their own campaign from personal funds or funds held jointly with their spouse. There is no limit on the amount of money a local candidate can spend in seeking an elective office.
Contribution limitations apply cumulatively to the entire primary and election campaign in which the candidate participates, regardless of whether there is a contested primary election.
Campaign Finance Contribution Limits
Per campaign (2 to 4 years, depending on office)
|Office||District Population (2010 Census)||Individual or Candidate Committee Limit||Political Action Committee Limit|
|MMSD School Board||226,308||$4,526||$4,526|
|Ald. District 1||11,960||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 2||11,809||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 3||11,782||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 4||11,988||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 5||11,385||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 6||11,837||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 7||11,637||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 8||11,822||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 9||11,813||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 10||11,315||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 11||11,336||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 12||11,700||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 13||11,612||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 14||12,002||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 15||11,426||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 16||11,561||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 17||11,693||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 18||11,319||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 19||11,755||$500||$400|
|Ald. District 20||11,457||$500||$400|
Termination of Registration and Reporting Requirements
Wisconsin Statute 11.19
Candidates or personal campaign committees may terminate their registered status at any time after the election by meeting each of the following conditions:
- Registrant disbands or determines that obligations will no longer be incurred
- Contributions will no longer be received nor disbursements made during a calendar year
- Registrant has no outstanding incurred obligations.
The termination report filed with the City Clerk’s Office indicates a cash balance zero and discloses the disposition of residual funds. If funds remain after all debts are paid, they may be disposed of using one or a combination of the following options:
- Any political purpose not prohibited by law
- Returned to donors in an amount not exceeding their original contribution
- Donated to a charitable organization or the common school fund
If a committee meets all requirements, termination may be accomplished through a termination request.