State Ethics Commission
The Ethics in Government Act establishes a total dollar limit for contributions which may be given to any individual candidate within a calendar year, regardless of the number of campaign committees a person may have in existence or their purpose.
You have requested my opinion as to the application of the dollar limitations on contributions imposed under the Ethics in Government Act, O.C.G.A. § 21-5-41 et seq. Specifically you have asked whether the dollar limits apply to candidates as individuals, rather than to their campaign committees, so that the total contributions they might be given in any particular calendar year are subject to the dollar limitations of the statute.
It is my opinion that because the Ethics in Government Act specifically provides that contributions are made to the individual candidates and not his or her campaign committee, then the dollar limitations must be applied and aggregated by the individual personally. A person seeking public office may not be given contributions which, when so aggregated, exceed the dollar limitations of the statute, even where such contributions may be given to multiple committees which have been created for different purposes.
The significance of this limitation on the dollar amount of contributions which may be given to a candidate is demonstrated by the factual situation outlined in your request. You have asked whether a current member of the General Assembly may accept a contribution to his or her present campaign committee while at the same time forming a new committee for another political office and accept contributions from the same donor for the new committee as well. In this situation, you have asked whether the dollar limits of O.C.G.A. § 21-5-41 et seq. would apply so that each of these campaign committees could be given the maximum contributions under the statute or whether the contributions to both campaign committees from the same donor would have to be aggregated and limited to the amounts outlined in the Act.
The contribution limits which you refer to are outlined in O.C.G.A. § 21-5-41 et seq. and were first adopted by the General Assembly in 1990. 1990 Ga. Laws 922, 924-26. There have been a number of alterations to the actual dollar-amount limitations since their enactment, but the statutes have otherwise generally followed the same proscriptions. 1992 Ga. Laws 1075, 1084-86; 1994 Ga. Laws 258, 266-73; 1995 Ga. Laws 8, 10.
These statutes all generally set limits for contribution to candidates by persons, partnerships, corporations, political committees and political parties. For example, O.C.G.A. § 21-5-41(a) provides:
No person shall during the course of any nonelection year make contributions to any candidate for state-wide elected office which in the aggregate for that year exceed $1,000.00. No person shall during the course of any election year after the year 1994 make contributions to any candidate for state-wide elected office which in the aggregate for that year exceed $5,000.00. No person shall during the course of the 1994 election year make contributions to any candidate for state-wide elected office which in the aggregate for that year exceed $7,500.00.
The other statutes limiting contributions given by other entities follow this same pattern of dollar limitations. O.C.G.A. §§ 21-5-42, 21-5-43, 21-5-43.1.
The General Assembly has also specifically provided under this portion of the Act that, "[A] contribution to a campaign committee of a candidate for any public office shall be deemed to be a contribution to such candidate." O.C.G.A. § 21-5-44. The only exception to this "attribution rule" is where a person is a candidate for a specific office in both a special and a general election held in the same year. Id. In that situation, the candidate in question may be given twice the maximum dollar limit established under the Act. Id.
The General Assembly has therefore established under this Code Section that the dollar limitations of O.C.G.A. § 21-5-41 et seq. are to be applied to the individual candidate running for office, not to his or her campaign committee. The statute also recognizes that, but for the exception established under O.C.G.A. § 21-5-44, a candidate cannot be given contributions in excess of the dollar limits regardless of the number of election contests in which they are involved.
As such, it appears that the General Assembly intended that in all other circumstances not excepted under O.C.G.A. § 21-5-44, the dollar limits would apply per individual candidate receiving them, without any exception as to whether that individual candidate is involved in more than one campaign. It is a well-established rule of statutory construction that when a statute expressly provides for certain matters, other matters which are not included are excluded by implication - i.e., expressio unius est exclusio alterius. See, e.g., 1993 Op. Att'y Gen. 93-26. The inclusion of only one specific exception under O.C.G.A. § 21-5-44 indicates the intent of the General Assembly that there not be any circumstances by which a candidate may be given contributions in excess of the dollar limitations of the Act.
Under the foregoing analysis, the contributions from a single donor would have to be aggregated and accounted for as being given to a single candidate and would be limited by the dollar amounts outlined in the Act. This is so even if the contributions are given to multiple campaign committees.
Therefore, it is my official opinion that campaign contributions under the Ethics in Government Act are deemed to be made to an individual running for office, not his or her
campaign committee. The dollar limitations established under the Act therefore must be applied in relation to the individual candidate who is receiving the money, and not separately to any campaign committees formed by that candidate.
DENNIS R. DUNN
Senior Assistant Attorney General
I have previously opined that the contribution limits do not apply to expenditures made independently of political candidates. See 1995 Op. Att'y Gen. 95-26.