Kentucky had no federal elections in 2003, but it did have an expensive gubernatorial race pitting Ernie Fletcher, a Republican congressman, against Ben Chandler, the Democratic state attorney general.
Yet this quintessential state race had a heavy federal flavor: most of the money raised by the Bluegrass State's main political parties went to their federal accounts, which can accept up to $10,000 from individuals—four times the limit for contributions to parties' state accounts.
Using their federal accounts, Kentucky's two major party committees were able to take in between $976,000 and $1.5 million more in individual contributions than state contribution limits would otherwise allow. And there was no loss of utility for the money, either: Federal funds can be spent directly on state races.
The emphasis on federal account fundraising—the Kentucky Republican Party raised nearly nine of every 10 dollars that way—is one of the changes that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as McCain-Feingold, has brought to state political parties. Although Kentucky's low state contribution limit is unusual, a handful of mostly smaller states—including New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Alaska—could see their parties use federal accounts to benefit state candidates.
The Center for Public Integrity studied the receipts and expenditures of more than 200 state party and state legislative caucus committees in 2003, the first full year under BCRA's new rules. While most caucus committees have little contact with the federal system, they too were affected by the law's ban on national party transfers of unlimited funds known as "soft money."