What is a Referendum?
A referendum is any question, issue, or act referred to a vote of the people by the General Assembly, a local government or by the people under a local act. A referendum includes constitutional amendments and bond issues. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.6(82).
What is a Referendum Committee?
A referendum committee is two or more individuals or entities, or two or more business entities, which has the primary purpose of supporting or opposing the passage of any referendum on the ballot. N.C.G.S. 163-278.6(84).
North Carolina’s Campaign Finance Laws regulate contributions received by referendum committees and expenditures made by referendum committees.
What is a contribution? A contribution is anything of value whatsoever, made to, or in coordination with, a candidate to support or oppose the nomination or election of one or more clearly identified candidates, or to a political committee, to a political party, to an affiliated party committee, or to a referendum committee, whether or not made in an election year, and any contract, agreement, or other obligation to make a contribution. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.6(13).
A contribution includes in-kind transfers. An in-kind contribution is a non-monetary contribution, such as a good or service, made to a committee.
What is an expenditure? An expenditure includes any purchase, transfer of funds, payment, gift, or anything of value whatsoever, whether or not made in an election year, and any contract, agreement, or other obligation to make an expenditure, to support or oppose the nomination, election, or passage of one or more clearly identified candidates, or ballot measure. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.6(51).
An expenditure includes any payment or other transfer made by a referendum committee.
All referendum committees must appoint a treasurer who resides in North Carolina. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.7(a).
Every treasurer must participate in treasurer training within three months of appointment and at least once every four years thereafter. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.7(f). More information on treasurer training can be found here.
Bank Accounts and the Receipt and Use of Cash
The treasurer must maintain all moneys of the referendum committee in bank accounts used exclusively by the committee. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.8(f). Referendum committee funds may not be commingled with personal funds or other accounts. All bank accounts and other depositories used by the referendum committee must be maintained in North Carolina. 08 NCAC 21 .0201.
A referendum committee may not accept cash contributions in excess of $50. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.14(b). Media expenditures may not be made in cash. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.8(c). Nonmedia expenditures of more than $50 also may not be made in cash. N.C.G.S § 163-278.8(d).
All referendum committees must file an Organizational Report within 10 days of organizing N.C.G.S. § 163-278.9A(a)(1).
Referendum committees established in support of or opposition to a statewide ballot issue or a ballot issue for multiple counties file report with the State Board of Elections.
Referendum committees established in support of or opposition to a single county or municipality ballot issue file reports with the county board of elections conducting the referendum.
An organizational report must include the following required forms:
- CRO-2100E Referendum Committee Statement of Organization. This form discloses basic information about the referendum committee including the name of the treasurer.
- CRO-3500 Certification of Financial Accounts. This form discloses the bank accounts used by the referendum committee.
- CRO-1000 Detailed Report Cover AND CRO-1100 Detailed Summary. As part of the organizational report, the referendum committee must disclose all contributions and expenditures not previously reported. At a minimum, the treasurer must submit the CRO-1000 and CRO-1100. As you complete the CRO-1100, you will be alerted as to any additional forms that are required. A free electronic filing option is also available. The treasurer must sign and file the CRO-1000 certifying the report as true and correct.
After filing an Organizational Report, referendum committees file disclosure reports according to the reporting schedule in N.C.G.S. § 163-278.9A. This schedule is available on the Reporting Schedules page.
A referendum committee that receives a contribution or transfer of funds of $1,000 or more before an election but after the period covered by the last report due before that election is required to file a 48 Hour Report. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.9A(a)(3). Contributions disclosed in a 48 Hour Report must also be disclosed in the next quarterly report.
All reports must be signed and certified as true and correct. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.32. A committee that does not file a report by the due date will receive a late filing penalty. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.34(a).
Notices of reports due are sent by the appropriate board of elections to committee treasurers. Please note that if the mailing or email address of a committee’s treasurer is not current on the Statement of Organization that committee may not receive the notifications, but must still file the reports.
The State Board of Elections has developed and maintains free software that enables the storing of all campaign finance information and allows the committee to generate electronic disclosure reports. Committees may also use third-party products that generate files that meet the file format requirements.
Disclosure reports detail all contributions and expenditures occurring within the reporting period.
At a minimum, committees filing paper reports must submit the CRO-1000 Detailed Report Cover and CRO-1100 Detailed Summary. As you complete the CRO-1100, you will be alerted as to any additional forms that are required. Whether a committee files paper reports or electronic reports, the treasurer must sign and file a CRO-1000 certifying each report as true and correct.
For each contribution, a treasurer must collect the following information for reporting purposes:
- The name and complete mailing address of each contributor;
- The principal occupation of each contributor;
- The amount contributed; and
- The date each contribution was made. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.11(a).
A treasurer is not required to report the name, address, or principal occupation of any individual who contributes $50 or less to the committee during the election. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.11(b). These contributions are reported using form CRO-1205 Aggregated Contributions from Individuals, which discloses only the date, amount and form of payment.
For each expenditure, a treasurer must collect the following information for reporting purposes:
- The name and complete mailing address of each payee;
- The amount paid;
- The purpose; and
- The date each payment was made. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.11(a).
Loan proceeds, outstanding loans, refunds and reimbursements, and debts and obligations must all be closely tracked and reported.
There are no contribution limits for referendum committees. Individuals and other entities may contribute in any amount, and the referendum committee may receive contributions in any amount.
A corporation, business entity, labor union, professional association, or insurance company may contribute to a referendum committee. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.19A.
Contributions to Other Committees
A referendum committee that received a contribution from a corporation, business entity, labor union, professional association, or insurance company may not make a contribution to another referendum committee, to a candidate committee or to a political committee. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.13(i).
Print media, television and radio advertisements purchased by the referendum committee must have a disclosure legend that includes the statement “Paid for by [name of referendum committee]”. For more information about the format and size requirements, please review N.C.G.S. § 163-278.39 and the Campaign Finance Manual.
After the Election
A referendum committee may remain active after the election. An active committee must continue to file disclosure reports.
A referendum committee continues until it winds up operations, disposes of assets, files a final report and files a CRO-3400 Certification to Close Committee. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.6(84). The committee may not close if it still has outstanding penalties from the State Board of Elections.
A referendum committee that wishes to participate in future elections may go inactive. If no contribution is received or expenditure made during a reporting period, the treasurer may file a CRO-3200 Certification of Inactive Status. N.C.G.S. § 163-278.10. While inactive, the committee is not required to file disclosure reports. If a contribution is received or an expenditure made, the committee must return to active status by filing a CRO-3300 Certification to Return to Active Status. The treasurer must also submit the next disclosure report due according to the appropriate reporting schedule. In this report, the committee must disclose all contributions and expenditures not previously reported.