Campaign finance is used about the funds that are raised during campaigns to promote the activities of political parties, candidates or to support policies during referendums, elections or initiatives. Political campaigns involve very much expenditure that include the cost of traveling for staff and candidates, consulting, direct costs of communicating with the voters, campaign logistics, publicity and production of campaign materials. Campaign financing is different depending on the country. In the Great Britain, for example, television advertising is sponsored freely for all parties campaigning and can only be limited by law, whereas, in the United States of America, television advertising is considered as the biggest expenses in campaign budgeting for state and national campaigns. Campaign finance involves the financing of election campaigns at the local, state and federal level. Campaign finance law at the federal level is enacted by the congress, and it is enforced by Federal Electoral Commission and the Independent Federal Agency. Most of campaign financing is primarily made by private donors, although public financing is available for qualifying presidential candidates during elections, both at the general elections and primaries. There is an eligibility criteria that should be fulfilled to qualify for the financing from government and the beneficiaries of the government funding should be subjected to spending threshold. States permit corporate and union contributions to campaigns and these states have their own limits (Smith 113).
In the United States of America campaigns, Political Action Committees (PAC) and super PAC are charged with identifying units that can raise and spent money for campaign purposes. In other advanced democracies such as Canada, japan, New Zealand, Australia and in European nations, political parties are the tools used to identify as well as aggregate multitude of entities raising and spending money for campaigns. In these countries, political parties run headquarters in the national, constituency, state and local levels; each of the units is charged with collecting revenue and incurring expenses that can be used in funding political competitions (Sabato 29). It has been argued, however, that political parties give support to candidates whom they are already in agreement. There is also the wide held perception that campaign donors do so to protect their interests in government or to gain illegitimate favors when the candidates are in power. Political financing as a form of bribery and political corruption and this has prompted governments to reform campaign financing techniques and sources.
There have been many controversies about the role of money in politics. The influence money in political activities has been an issue of concern. This is because of the high clamor that accompanies the high costs of political campaigns that came with the growth of radio and television broadcasting. Political financing is a product of the outgrowth of the continuing struggle to reconcile the notion of political equality of one man one vote with other fundamental liberties such as freedom of speech and association. There has been much criticism about campaign financing in the United States of America and the issues raised have been acute and have necessitated campaign finance reform (Anschutz 39).
In the early days of United States republic, campaign funds were rarely considered a source of controversy; this was because of limited campaign activities. During the early days, candidates stood for campaign activities without taking part in campaign politicking or direct solicitation of votes, and they paid any money incurred in political campaigns through the assistance of relatives or friends or from their own pockets. But, as the country grew and political system matured, the issue of campaign financing started becoming contentious. Party politics has opened up the political system to people lacking personal resources and hence party organizations have started developing systems of raising campaign money to support their candidates in elections (Corrado 9).
Traditionally, the spoil system, which permitted electoral victors to reward party supporters with government positions led to the development of a system of raising money from party supporters and government workers. By 1830, parties were raising money from supporters that they had placed in government and other political positions by making them donate a certain amount of their salaries to the party. Lavish contributions from capitalists and corporate sources alarmed reformers and necessitated the demand for campaign financing legislation. This was because muckraking journalists and progressive politicians have realized that wealthy donors where getting special favors because of their donations and campaign gifts hence corrupting the political process. This resulted in the passage of laws that prohibited corporate contributions (Corrado 12). Campaign financing can both be public or private.
Private financing of campaigns
There are some countries that heavily rely on private donors for campaign financing. In these countries, fundraising is considered as a massive activity for the candidate and campaign staff, particularly during moments of big campaigns. The tactics used for campaign financing include encouraging supporters to contribute through the internet, solicitation through direct mail, organizing functions aimed at raising money and direct solicitation. Countries relying on private donations need an extensive disclosure of their donations by capturing the name and address of employers and contributors; this is mainly to allow tracking of undue campaign influence by government groups. Private financing is aimed at preventing right to speech and to save the government from taking part in campaign funding. Private campaign financing facilitates civic education while ensuring respect for diversity views. Private funding of campaigns comes from private individuals and groups like trade unions but not from non-profit organizations.
Public interest and campaign finance
Campaign finance reform is becoming a perennial issue in American politics. There has been widespread public support for campaign finance reform because they belief that there is a problem with campaign financing. Members of the public belief that the political leaders and the government are only responsive to the interests of PAC and campaign donors; there are not after the interests of the country or constituency. The public is, however, not fully informed about campaign financing (Sorauf 76).
Campaign finance can be regulated through many avenues. The main avenues used to regulate campaign finance are; public financing, disclosure and contribution limits. Disclosure is considered as the basic form of electoral reforms and regulations. The Federal Election Commissions requires a high level of disclosure from political candidates, political parties and party committees. This disclosure should include the amounts contributed, their expenditures and the sources of contribution. Limiting the source and amount of campaign finance is considered as the best tactics used to regulate campaign financing. Campaign finance limits vary from one state to the other. There are only four states that do not have a limit on campaign financing. Federally, the amount limit that an individual can donate to a candidate for a gubernatorial seat is $7,500 in every election cycle while for legislative candidate range from $3,300 to $3,700. All states have a regulation governing corporate contributions, but only 25 states have established limits on the amounts that corporations can donate while the rest 21 states do not allow contributions from corporate bodies (Boatright 9).
Campaign finance reforms
Campaign finance reform in the United States of America involves changing the involvement of money in political activities, particularly political campaigns. Attempts to reform campaign finance through legislation dates back to the year 1867, but the first attempt to enforce and regulate campaign finance started in 1970s. This followed the enactment of the Federal Campaign Finance Act (FECA) in 1972. This Act required candidates for political office to disclose the source of their funding, their contributions and expenditures. The Act was amended in 1974 to introduce statutory threshold on contributions and to create the Federal Electoral Commission. The Act sought to restrict any influence by the rich people in campaigns by limiting donations to individual to $1,000 and $5,000 to political action committees. These particular donations were known as hard money. The recent federal law that sought to regulate campaign finance was the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) enacted in the year 2002. This Act revised legal limits on expenditures that had been set in the year 1924. This Act also illegalized any unregulated campaigns, known as soft money to national parties. Soft money is the money spent by organizations that are independent and which don’t advocate for the defeat and election of some candidates. This contribution is not made to candidates directly. In the year 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled in Citizens v. Federal Election Commission that no one can limit corporate funding of political broadcasts for candidates in elections because of the right of the organizations to free speech (Gross and Robert 8).
Interest groups and campaign finance
The two main presidential candidates in the 2008 elections, Obama and McCain, firmly voiced their support for the reduction of the role of interest groups during campaigns. They could not, however, discourage these groups from making contributions on the 2008 campaigns. They sought to denounce the activities of interest groups that contributed money towards the 2004 presidential campaigns. Although the media placed much focus on the massive amounts that were spent on the 2008 presidential elections and interest groups played an active role in it. Interest groups have continued playing a prominent role despite the fact BCRA was the most consequential piece of legislation to regulate campaign finance reforms. Labor unions, business organizations and advocacy groups, have fought BCRA tooth and nail on grounds that it will curtail their freedom of speech in campaigns. Various presidential candidates have been decrying about the role of interest groups in campaign financing, and there have been laws that have been passed to restrict their influence and regulate their activities. There are laws enacted to govern permissible interest groups and their activities. This can later group resources and direct the relationships between politicians and interest groups (Powell 103).
In the year 2002, Bill Clinton, Democratic Presidential candidate openly criticized campaign finance system. He argued that the system allowed large contributors to buy their influence and access into Washington. Since that time, there have been several accusations involving campaign finance irregularities in the wake of illegal foreign campaign contributions. Large contributions from wealthy individuals have dominated much campaign finance until the landmark reforms where passed. The FECA Act signified the introduction of reforms that sought to limit advertising expenditures while allowing for disclosure of candidates. The Act also legalized political action committees. Amendments to this Act were passed in 1974 following the Watergate scandal. This marked the victory for campaign finance reforms. Campaign finance reforms have been undermined by the courts. Court cases including Buckley v. Valeo and the Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Elections Commissions have undermined efforts aimed at regulating campaign financing activities. Interest groups, party officials and political candidates have continued to take aggressive actions in expanding the boundaries of campaign financing (Goidel, Donald and Todd 2).
The Federal Elections Commissions that has the duty to police campaign financing has been described as weak and ineffective. This ineffectiveness has increased the willingness of political action committees, candidates and political parties to legally and ethically engage in campaign practices that are questionable. This has made the public be skeptical on the role of money in the political process. In order to understand campaign financing among In United States of America, it is imperative to first understand the nexus between political parties, candidates and the electorate. The discontent with the role of money in campaigns is linked to the shift from party-centered electoral process to candidate centered process (Grossman 45).
The legislative arm of the government has been very active in campaign finance reforms. In the United States Congress, the reforms have sharply divided the Congress into Democrats and Republicans. Each side has used the issue as a measure of cushion the incumbent and the reforms have been implemented based on the party in power. Reforms for political parties have only happened during the time of scandals and in the period when there is a high electoral uncertainty for one party during elections. The reform proposals have been considered as perfect measures of protecting incumbent legislators. It is also used as a measure of protecting incumbent leaders and enhancing the electoral prospects by forcing resource redistribution that can make it hard for the opposition to campaign effectively. In this case, it is the disadvantaged party that presses for the reforms that can favor their political side (La 96).
Elections in the United States of America have been associated with money. Campaign finance reforms have been formulated as responses to publicity linked to specific campaign practices and scandals. States in the United States only passed regulations that were aimed at curbing voter bribery and other acts aimed at enticing voters. Whereas the amounts of contributions are limited, the citizens favor setting thresholds on the amount of money that a candidate can use during campaigns. In the case of Buckley v. Valeo the Supreme Court ruled that the demand for candidates to adhere to the spending threshold was a violation of the First Amendment to the American Constitution that protects free speech. The court ruled that all forms of political communications are part of protected speech and limiting campaign spending amounts to limiting individual freedom of speech and hence impermissible. States have, however, established spending threshold, and they entice candidates to adhere to it by providing them with campaign funds.
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Corrado, Anthony. The New Campaign Finance Sourcebook. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2005. Internet resource.
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