The term "campaign finance" refers generally to the donations and expenditures political candidates and political committees use to fund elections and issue advocacy. Campaign fundraising and spending rules are separately enforced by local, state and federal governmental agencies, depending on the nature of the election.
The commission, created by Congress in 1975, administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act, which governs federal election financing. It discloses campaign finance records, enforces donation limits and prohibitions and oversees the public financing system for presidential elections. The commission's rules apply to federal candidates, such as those running for U.S. Congress seats. The commission has a complex set of rules to limit donations by individuals and committees. Generally, individuals can only donate $2,400 to a candidate for each election. Committees, sometimes described as political action committees, or PACs, can give more, depending on various factors.
The commission has six members who are appointed by the president, according to its website: "Each member serves a six-year term, and two seats are subject to appointment every two years. By law, no more than three Commissioners can be members of the same political party, and at least four votes are required for any official Commission action. This structure was created to encourage nonpartisan decisions. The Chairmanship of the Commission rotates among the members each year, with no member serving as Chairman more than once during his or her term."
There are two types of political committees registered with the FEC: separate segregated funds and nonconnected committees. SSF committees generally are established and administered by corporations, labor unions, membership organizations or trade associations. They only solicit contributions from individuals associated with their organizations. Nonconnected committees, however, are not connected to such organizations and are free to solicit contributions from the public. Candidates also have their own campaign committees.
The commission is responsible for administering and enforcing sections of Texas Election Code and other statutory provisions governing politics and ethics in the state. Among its core functions is collecting and disclosing campaign finance records, though only for statewide elected officials, district judges and members of the Texas Legislature. The commission maintains a searchable database of the contributions and expenditures for such candidates and officials.
Unlike in federal elections, there are no limits on donations and spending in Texas political races. The commission does enforce some limits on judicial races, however. Candidates in Texas raise money under their names or through a committee, such as Texans for Rick Perry. Some use both.
The commission in recent years has begun to open up its raw data in accessible formats, posting, for example, the entire 10-year contributions and expenditures database in a (very large) Microsoft Access file. The commission also posts a record layout explaining the structure of its comma-separated value downloads for individual candidates and committees. (See an example .csv file).
Local governments in Texas are responsible for administering campaign finance enforcement and disclosure for local candidates, such as mayors, county commissioners and city council members. Local candidates follow rules and guidelines established by the state, and they use Texas Ethics Commission forms (or substantially similar forms) for disclosure. But local officials can impose limits on spending and donations. County clerks and city secretaries also are responsible for housing and disclosing the records, however. Some cities, such as Austin, only make paper records (or flat scans of paper records) available to the public. The city of Houston, however, maintains the records in a searchable (though imperfect) format.