Campaign Finance


Campaign finance refers to the way that candidates raise money and spend it in political campaigns.  When campaigning for the support of millions of diverse voters, a candidate must try to connect with as many voters as possible.  This has become more difficult as America has grown in terms of land and population.  To fund such massive campaigns, presidential candidates may accept public funding from taxpayer dollars, raise private donations, or use personal money.  Toward the end of the 19th century, campaign finance practices became increasingly corrupt, as large businesses donated millions of dollars to political causes.  President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) was among the first to speak out against excessive corporate donations to campaigns.  He sparked the next century’s numerous reform measures: the Tillman Act, the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and more.

“Buying” an election is still a source of controversy today—critics consider it unequal and thus undemocratic, as the votes and voices of wealthier citizens appear to be more powerful than those of average voters. After the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the president stepped into the debate over campaign finance reform (changing the way that campaigns are financed) and corporate influence in political elections.  One side of the debate considers any restriction of campaign finance a suppression of speech.  Advocates of this position think that money is speech, and therefore any restriction on campaign contributions amounts to an undemocratic suppression of speech.  Furthermore, they point out that Americans spend more on potato chips than they do on elections. The other side argues that unrestricted practices create a barrier to public office that only the extremely wealthy can cross.  Over the years, politicians from both sides of the political spectrum, such as former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, have argued that it is a politician’s civic responsibility to finance campaigns responsibly and to utilize broadly based organizations. Despite the several attempts at legislative reform, the current state of campaign finance has not changed much in any practical way.

Federal Election Commission > Campaign Finance Laws