While pols can't use leadership PAC funds to directly campaign for themselves, they can use the money to build national recognition. For example, when Sen. Rand Paul traveled to Guatemala in August to perform pro bono eye surgeries — a trip that netted him a fair amount of positive media coverage — his leadership PAC funded it. After a candidate officially declares a presidential run, the function of his leadership PAC becomes largely obsolete.
Once a politician officially declares his or her candidacy, that's when campaign committees come into play. When most people think of what "donating to a political campaign" means, they probably think of the campaign committee. This is the most direct type of campaign donation, but it is almost quaint in its limitations compared with the dark-money behemoths that dominate political fundraising today.
Under new Federal Election Campaign guidelines, individual donations are limited to $5,400 per two-year cycle — $2,700 to be used for the primary election, and $2,700 for the general election, should the candidate be lucky enough to win his party's nomination.
POLITICAL PARTY ORGANIZATIONS
While state and national parties typically remain on the sidelines during primaries, they will spring into action to benefit their side's candidate in the general election. Those $50,000-a-plate dinner fundraisers organized by joint fundraising committees, for example, usually funnel contributions to both the state and national arms of a party.
Before last April, individuals could donate only a combined $123,000 to all federal political committees. But in its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC last year, the Supreme Court struck down that aggregate limit. That means individuals can now give a combined $10,000 to state, district, and local party committees in all 50 states — in other words, a maximum of $500,000 each calendar year. However, donors may find a better return on investment if they spend money in a few key swing states rather than give to, say, the California Republican Party or the Texas Democratic Party.
Under the new Federal Election Committee limits, individual donors can give $33,400 every calendar year to a national party's three committees: the national committee, the Senate campaign committee, and the House campaign committee. While the money you give to the Republican National Committee or the Democratic National Committee during election season will largely be spent to benefit that party's presidential nominee, donating to a House or Senate campaign committee is less likely to help out your presidential candidate of choice.
Party convention committees
The purpose of parties' convention accounts, unsurprisingly, is to raise money to pay for each party's national nominating convention. As with the national party accounts, individuals can donate $33,400 to the national committee and the party's two congressional committees — a total limit of $100,200 per year, according to the FEC.