Various groups become involved in municipal elections, including ballot questions such as Proposition 2½
overrides. In some circumstances, groups are required to register as political committees and disclose their
election activity under the Massachusetts campaign finance law; in other circumstances, no disclosure is required.
It is therefore important to know the various features of these groups and their legal obligations.
M.G.L. c. 55, the Campaign Finance law, requires groups to register as political committees if they raise money
to support or oppose candidates, ballot questions, or political parties. These committees must file periodic
campaign finance reports with the town clerk or election commission and are subject to a number of restrictions.
In contrast, associations that are not political committees are not subject to these requirements.
Individuals and groups interested in becoming involved in municipal elections should be aware of the distinctions
among these groups:
Ballot question committee
: a political committee that is organized
to support or oppose a specific ballot question, such as a tax override or debt exclusion (not
a town meeting
Political action committee (PAC)
- A group that solicits or receives contributions to support or oppose a ballot question must register with
the town clerk or election commission and file disclosure reports before and after the election.
- Ballot question committees may receive contributions in any amount and from any source, including
- Ballot question committees must dissolve after the relevant election and dispose of any residual funds by
making a payment to a charitable or other entity specified in the statute. Committee officials may
organize a separate association for non-election-related activity, but ballot question committee funds
may not be transferred to the association.
: a political committee that is organized to support or oppose candidates.
- Like ballot question committees, PACs file periodic campaign finance disclosure reports.
- Unlike ballot question committees, PACs may not solicit or receive contributions from corporations and
may accept no more than $500 from any individual in a calendar year.
- A PAC may remain in existence indefinitely, but must file periodic campaign finance reports.
: a previously existing or new group formed to influence officials or the public concerning a
public policy (non-election) issue (sometimes referred to as an issue group).
- An association may be organized to keep residents informed regarding a particular issue, influence
town meeting, or lobby selectmen or other municipal committees or boards. An association has no
campaign finance filing requirements as long as it is not involved in supporting or opposing a ballot
question, candidates or a political party.
- An association may make expenditures to support or oppose a ballot question from its general treasury
without having to organize a ballot question committee. Such expenditures would need to be disclosed
on a form filed with the town clerk or election commission. If an association raises funds specifically
for the purpose of ballot question activity, it must register as a ballot question committee and segregate
those funds from any other accounts.
- As long as an association is not raising funds for the purpose of supporting or opposing a ballot
question or candidates, it is not subject to any contribution limits and is not required to file reports
under the campaign finance law.
- An association may remain in existence indefinitely.