It has often been said that "money is the mother's milk of politics." In a democracy where candidates "run for public office" and are "elected by the people," they must campaign to win the election. Campaigning costs money. The candidate must put together a campaign staff. He or she must rent office space, equipment, computers, and telephones for his headquarters. The campaign needs to make travel arrangements and book hotel accommodations. And, most expensively, they must produce campaign advertisements and buy television airtime. Pollsters, consultants, media advisors, and gurus cost money. They even have to hire lawyers and accountants so that they will not violate an ever increasing array of State and Federal laws dealing with elections and finance.
Presidential elections are the only elections on the national level, which are partially funded through tax payer dollars. Some States, for example New Jersey, provide for public funding of their gubernatorial elections. All other elections require the raising of private funds.
While some citizens contribute money to their favorite candidate from altruistic reasons, most do so to gain advantage for their own self interests. Almost all corporations, union, trade organizations, and other organized groups have formed Political Action Committees, which raise and distribute money to political candidates. While money is necessary for political campaigns, it is also clear that money can be used bribe politicians. I'll give you this amount of money and you try to pass this special legislation for me. There is a thin line between a campaign contribution and a bribe.
There is always the danger that those with lots of money will corrupt the democratic process and subvert the public interest for their own special interests. The Federal Election Commission summarizes its purposes in the following paragraphs:
"As early as 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized the need for campaign finance reform and called for legislation to ban corporate contributions for political purposes. In response, Congress enacted several statutes between 1907 and 1966 which, taken together, sought to:
"In 1971, Congress consolidated its earlier reform efforts in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), instituting more stringent disclosure requirements for federal candidates, political parties and political action committees (PACs). Still, without a central administrative authority, the campaign finance laws were difficult to enforce.
"Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. The 1974 amendments also established an independent agency, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to enforce the law, facilitate disclosure and administer the public funding program. Congress made further amendments to the FECA in 1976 following a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo; major amendments were also made in 1979 to streamline the disclosure process and expand the role of political parties.
"The next set of major amendments came in the form of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA). Among other things, the BCRA banned national parties from raising or spending nonfederal funds (often called “soft money”), restricted so-called issue ads, increased the contribution limits and indexed certain limits for inflation.
"Public funding of federal elections originally proposed by President Roosevelt in 1907 began to take shape in 1971 when Congress set up the income tax checkoff to provide for the financing of Presidential general election campaigns and national party conventions. Amendments to the Internal Revenue Code in 1974 established the matching fund program for Presidential primary campaigns.
"The FEC opened its doors in 1975 and administered the first publicly funded Presidential election in 1976." (Federal Election Commission, The FEC and the Federal Election Campaign Law (September 2003) Available online at http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/fecfeca.htm . Accessed February 5, 2004)
There are many Americans who believe that despite the FEC and various laws regulating campaign finance, we still have "the best government that money can buy." Candidates raised close to $1 billion for all Federal elections in the year 2000 election cycle. Their disbursements were considerably less at $713 million, leaving many with plenty of cash on hand for the next election cycle.
According to Opensecrets.org (http://www.opensecrets.org/presidential/index.asp), the 2000 presidential candidates raised $528.9 million and spent $343.1 million. House and Senate candidates raised $382 and $258 million, respectively, during the 2000 election cycle according to the FEC. They spent $223 million running for the House and 167 running for the Senate in 2000.
Below are two charts taken from the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which give the totals for all Senate and House Candidates running for office from 1992 through 2002. During the eighteen months election cycle for the 2002 election, 144 Senate candidates raised $201.92 million and 1,377 Congressional candidates raised $400.84 million. The tables at the FEC WEB site break down this information into Republicans and Democrats as well as incumbents, challengers, and open seats.
Federal Election Commission
As of January 31, 2004, George W. Bush had raised $132 million and still had $99 on hand. Howard Dean had raised $41 million and was left with less than $10 million. John Kerry had raised $28 million and had $1.6 million left. If money can buy an election, the Democrats are in real trouble.
It must also be noted, with sadness, that Bush, Dean, and Kerry have each opted out of the public funding of Presidential elections. As of January 2, 2004, the first matching funds went out to those candidates who had met the eligibility requirements and agreed to abide by FEC spending limits.
"The Federal Election Commission has certified $15,417,353.84 in Federal Matching Funds to six Presidential candidates for the 2004 election. The U.S. Treasury Department will make the payments on January 2, 2004.
"The following chart lists the amount certified to each candidate.
"To be eligible to receive Federal Matching Funds, a candidate must first raise $100,000 in contributions from individuals: $5,000-plus in 20 different states, in amounts of no more than $250 from any individual contributor. Candidates must also agree to abide by spending limits, to keep certain records, and to submit those records for audit. In addition to Howard Dean, John Kerry and President Bush have declined to participate in the Matching Fund program." FEC APPROVES MATCHING FUNDS FOR 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES News Release December 30, 2003. Available online: http://www.fec.gov/press/20031230certification.html
Opensecrets.org has many excellent pages which deal the campaign finance issues raised in this brief introduction. Check out their statistics on who gives to election campaigns at: http://www.opensecrets.org/presidential/donordems.asp?format=&sortby=N
Did you know that only 651,739 persons raised $994.8 million dollars in amounts of $200 or more. This is less than 1/4 of 1 percent of the total population.
Opensecrets.org also tells you how many people contribute much larger amounts. 23 people gave more than $1 million each, for a total of $52 million and, surprise, most of them gave their money to Democratic candidates. http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/donordemographics.asp?cycle=2002