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Earmarked Contribution

A contribution that the contributor directs (either orally or in writing) to a clearly identified candidate or authorized committee through an intermediary or conduit. Earmarking may take the form of a designation, instruction, or encumbrance, and it may be direct or indirect, express, or implied. Also known as “earmarking.”

Elastic State

A state whose voting outcome in a presidential election is relatively sensitive or responsive to changes in political conditions, such as a change in the national economic mood. They typically contain many swing voters, who are likely to be independents and lack other characteristics that are strong predictors of voting behavior.


Any one of several processes by which an individual seeks nomination for election, or election, to federal office. They include: a primary election, including a caucus or convention that has authority to select a nominee; a general election; a runoff election; and a special election held to fill a vacant seat.

Election Cycle

The two-year period beginning the day after the previous general election and ending on the day of the next general election for federal offices. All 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as one-third of the U.S. Senate, are up for election each cycle. Presidential elections occur every other election cycle.

Electioneering Communications

Any broadcast, cable or satellite communication that (1) refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office; (2) is publicly distributed within certain time periods before an election and (3) is targeted to the relevant electorate.


A member of the Electoral College.

Electoral College

The body that elects the president; composed of electors from each state equal to that state’s representation in Congress; a candidate must win majority electoral votes to win.

Eleventh Commandment

A phrase used by Ronald Reagan during his 1966 gubernatorial campaign in California, which read: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” It was created by California Republican Party Chairman Gaylord Parkinson to stop liberal California Republicans from labeling Reagan an extremist as they did to Barry Goldwater two years earlier in the 1964 presidential election. The phrase evidently worked as Republicans united to help elect Reagan as governor.


A political tactic of joining an organization with which you do not agree with the intention of changing it from the inside.

Equal Protection

Refers to the “Equal Protection” clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The guarantee of “equal protection of the law” has been evoked to challenge the constitutionality of today’s system of privately-financed elections. It is alleged that under such a system citizens without access to wealth are denied their right to equal political opportunity.

Exempt Party Activities

Certain candidate support activities that state and local party groups may undertake without making a contribution or expenditure, provided specific rules are followed.

Exit Polls

Surveys of voters taken immediately as they leave the polling place in which they are asked which candidate they chose and opinions on top issues. They are conducted by media companies to provide early indicators of who might have won an election since polling results can sometimes take hours or days.


A purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money or anything of value made for the purpose of influencing a federal election. A written agreement to make an expenditure is also considered an expenditure.

Exploratory Committee

A fundraising committee set up by an individual who is considering a run for federal office. Once the individual declares his or her candidacy, the exploratory committee becomes a campaign committee. An exploratory committee does not have to file reports on its financial activity until the individual decides to run, but all contribution limits and prohibitions apply, the same as they do to campaign committees. To avoid the question of when he or she has formally begun to run for office, an individual often will file reports as a “candidate,” while publicly maintaining that he or she is still only exploring the possibility of running. See Testing the Waters.

Express Advocacy

Paying for political advertisements and other mass communications that benefit specific candidates, a practice that is regulated by federal and state election law. Groups and individuals who pay for such communications sometimes claim that they were engaged not in “express advocacy” but rather “issue advocacy,” a constitutionally protected exercise of free speech and, therefore, not subject to contribution limits. There are two ways that a communication can be defined as express advocacy (candidate advocacy): by use of certain “explicit words of advocacy of election or defeat” and by the “only reasonable interpretation” test.

Expressed Powers

The specific powers given to Congress or the president by the Constitution. Also known as “enumerated powers.”