The special ability of campaign contributors to meet, talk by
telephone, and correspond personally with elected officials in order to
"make their case" for or against a particular law, policy, regulation,
"Access is it. Access is power. Access is clout. That's how the thing
works." -- former U. S. Rep. Romano Mazzoli (R-Ky.)
All political committees established, financed,
or controlled by the same person, group, corporation, or labor union.
Under federal law, committees affiliated with one another are considered
one political committee for purposes of contribution limits.
Elections in which campaign giving is so
dominated by vested-interest contributors as to create the impression, if
not the reality, that candidates are "for sale" to the highest "bidders."
These large contributors expect to "buy" access, if not actual votes, in
exchange for donations.
"The buying and selling of political influence is a long-standing --
though shameful -- tradition in American politics. It's time to take
Congress off the auction block." -- former U. S. Sen. David Boren
A phrase taken from Federal Election Commission regulations
used by candidates' campaign committees to excuse their failure to provide
the FEC with complete disclosure information concerning their
contributors. For example, when only the name and address but not the
employer or occupation of a contributor is given on a campaign finance
form, the words "best effort" will sometimes be written in. Some states
require candidates to return checks to contributors if sufficient
disclosure information is not provided.
Reference to certain pre-Watergate instances of
lobbyists delivering brown paper bags filled with cash to the Nixon White
Buckley v. Valeo
A 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the majority
ruled that mandatory limits on campaign spending, candidates' spending of
their own money, and independent expenditures are violations of the
constitutional right to free speech and thus prohibited. The same decision
upheld the constitutionality of limits on individual and committee
contributions to candidates, public financing for presidential elections,
and campaign contribution disclosure. The Buckley ruling applies to state
and local, as well as federal, elections.
The practice of pooling individual contributions from various
people -- often those employed by the same business or in the same
profession -- in order to maximize the political influence of the bundler.
Typically, all of the checks collected in this way are sent or delivered
to candidates on the same day. PACs and political party committees that
have already given the maximum allowed by law often bundle individual
contributions as a way of delivering even more money to candidates.
Campaign Spending Limit
A maximum amount that a candidate's campaign
can spend during the election period. In its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo
decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that campaign spending limits
constitute a violation of free speech unless voluntarily accepted, or
accepted in exchange for public financing or other public resources.
Voluntary campaign spending limits exist in eleven states and in primary
and general elections for president.
Candidate Spending Limit
A maximum amount that a candidate can give or
loan to his or her own campaign. According to the Supreme Court's 1976
Buckley v. Valeo decision, mandatory limits on candidate spending violate
the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.
A politician's major campaign contributors, as
distinguished from his or her ordinary constituents -- the voters. The
interests of cash constituents are usually linked more to elected
officials' committee assignments or political authority than to the
geographic areas they represent.
Cash Cow Committee
A legislative committee, such as banking or
commerce, whose members receive higher-than-average amounts of campaign
contributions from the economic interests the committee oversees.
"I remember when I got on Energy and Commerce, everybody jumped for the
Telecommunications Subcommittee first . . . . There was a member sitting
next to me, and every time another member bid for that subcommittee, he
went "Ding!" -- as if a cash register was going off." -- former U. S. Rep.
Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.)
Getting favorable treatment, often worth millions of
dollars, from elected officials to whom one has given large campaign
contributions. Such treatment can take the form of tax breaks, subsidies,
regulatory exemptions, or other actions and non-actions (e.g., stalling)
desired by the contributor.
"Ninety percent (of corporate welfare), if not 100 percent of it, is a
result of lobbying and campaign donations by particular companies and
industries." -- Labor Secretary Robert Reich, April 1995
An upper limit on campaign expenditures. Sometimes also refers
to the upper limit on what individuals, PACs, and political parties can
The candidate trying to unseat the person in office, or
Christmas Tree Bill
A piece of legislation that includes an assortment
of special provisions -- e.g., tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory
exemptions -- often incorporated in the bill for the benefit of lawmakers'
campaign contributors. One such provision, contained in the 1986 Tax
Reform Act, granted a tax exemption to a single company (Phillips
Petroleum) identified only as a "corporation incorporated on June 13,
1917, which has its principal place of business in Bartlesville,
Government funding and other campaign assets, such as
media vouchers and free postage, that come from the public as a whole
rather than from private interests.
Money raised by major-party presidential nominees that
is used for legal and accounting expenses incurred in the process of
satisfying the reporting and other requirements of federal campaign
finance laws. Used by candidates as a way of getting around the
prohibition on fundraising during the presidential general election.
A person, group, or organization that forwards others'
contributions to candidates, a legal activity under federal law. Such
contributions always count against the federal contribution limit for the
donors, and sometimes against the limit for the conduit as well (in cases
in which the conduit exercises "direction and control").
Conflict of Interest
The situation that results when an
umpire takes money from the players, when a judge takes money from
defendants and prosecutors, and when government officials take campaign
contributions from people whose economic interests are affected by
"We are the only people in the world required by law to take large amounts
of money from strangers and then act as if it has no effect on our
behavior." -- U. S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
A maximum amount of money that an individual, PAC,
or political party may contribute to a candidate's campaign committee, to
a PAC, or to a political party. The federal government and most states
impose some kind of limits on contributions from individuals and PACs.
Money, or anything else of value (such as mailing lists,
telephones, billboard space) given to a candidate's campaign committee,
political party, or political action committee (PAC) by an individual or
In federal elections, money spent by political
parties on behalf of their presidential and congressional candidates in
the general election. Such expenditures are limited by law, and are not
direct payments to candidates but payments by the parties to cover
candidates' campaign costs.
The billions of dollars that taxpayers annually pay for
unnecessary tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory exemptions, etc. that can be
at least partially, if not entirely, attributed to lawmakers' desire to
gain or retain the support of big-money campaign contributors. When
calculating what our current system of privately financed elections costs
(and what a system of publicly financed elections would cost), the
corruption cost must be factored in.
"On the tax side, the subsidy side, and the expenditure side, decisions
are clearly weighted and influenced . . . by who has contributed to the
candidates. The price that the public pays for this process...is quite
high." -- former U.S. Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.)
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Run by Democratic
members of the U.S. House of Representatives for the purpose of raising
money to support Democratic candidates for the House, the DCCC raised
$19.4 million during the 1993-1994 election cycle.
The practice of raising additional campaign funds after
the election is over in order to pay off the candidate's campaign debt.
Democratically Financed Elections
An electoral system in which
candidates' campaigns are funded with resources that come from the people
as a whole, rather than an elite few. Also, a specific legislative
proposal under which eligible candidates who pledge not to accept or spend
any private money whatsoever during the primary and general election
periods would receive equal amounts of full public financing with which to
conduct their campaigns. A variation on this proposal is likely to become
a statewide ballot initiative in Maine in 1996. Other variations have been
introduced in, though not passed by, five state legislatures and the city
council of New York City.
Dialing for Dollars
Making phone calls to potential big-money donors. A time-consuming --
and, in the period preceding an election, a daily -- task undertaken by
the candidates themselves as well as their key fundraisers.
"I have to call people and ask them for money. Then I have to call them
and ask them again. Then I have to call them one more time." -- former U.
S. Rep. Jim Bacchus (D-Fla.) .
The requirement that candidates, political parties, and
political action committees (PACs) report the amounts and sources of their
campaign contributions. Federal candidates must list each contributor's
name, address, employer, and occupation. As of 1994, 23 states did not
require disclosure of employer and occupation.
Democratic National Committee. The leadership,
administrative, and fundraising arm of the national Democratic Party.
Raises money, including "soft money," for party activities.
A political process based more on money than votes.
"If the founding fathers had wanted American democracy to use dollar bills
as ballots, they would have placed cash registers where ballot boxes now
stand. -- Amitai Etzioni, author of Capital Corruption.
The practice of making campaign contributions to both (or
all) candidates or parties during an election, as a way of "hedging one's
bets" and having access to whomever wins. Many industrial giants --
including Archer-Daniels-Midland, RJR Nabisco, Atlantic Richfield Co.,
Philip Morris, and Joseph E. Seagram & Sons -- gave over $100,000 to both
major parties in the 1992 election cycle.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Run by Democratic
members of the U.S. Senate for the purpose of raising money to support
Democratic candidates for the Senate, the DSCC raised $26.4 million during
the 1993-1994 election cycle.
Occurs when a contributor writes a check to, for example,
the Democratic National Committee in response to a solicitation and
designates through a notation on the check the name of a candidate for
whom the contribution is intended. In this case, the DNC acts as a
"conduit" and must identity the contribution and the contributor in
federal disclosure reports.
A reference to the monthly breakfasts for lobbyists
initiated by U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen when he became chairman of the
powerful Senate Finance Committee, as a way to raise funds for his
re-election campaign. A ticket to attend cost $10,000, the maximum PAC
contribution allowed per election cycle.
"Political business long has been lubricated by money, and that process
probably will not change much on its own -- not even for Bentsen, despite
his move to shut down the "Eggs McBentsen" show." -- National Journal,
February 21, 1987
The period that extends from the day after the previous
general election to the day of the next general election. The election
cycles for a U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the President are two
years, six years, and four years, respectively.
Refers to the "Equal Protection" clause of the 14th
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The guarantee of "equal protection of
the law" has been evoked to challenge the constitutionality of today's
system of privately financed elections. It is alleged that under such a
system citizens without access to wealth are denied their right to equal
Paying for political advertisements and other mass
communications that benefit particular candidates, a practice that is
regulated by federal and state election law. Groups and individuals who
pay for such communications sometimes claim that they were engaged not in
"express advocacy" but rather "issue advocacy," a constitutionally
protected exercise of free speech and, therefore, not subject to
contribution limits. The distinction between the two forms of advocacy is
often not clear.
A wealthy individual who makes large campaign contributions.
Also, a member of a guerrilla theater troupe which stages actions outside
political fundraisers; the actors dress like corpulent felines smoking
cigars and passing out bundles of cash to politicians on behalf of vested
Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)
Congressional legislation enacted
in 1971 and amended in 1974, 1976, and 1979. FECA incorporates all federal
law pertaining to federal elections. Limits individual contributions to
$1,000 per election to a federal candidate; $5,000 to a PAC per calendar
year; $20,000 to a national party per calendar year; and an aggregate of
$25,000 per year to all federal candidates, PACs, and national parties.
Also limits PAC contributions to federal candidates to $5,000 per
Federal Election Commission (FEC)
The U.S. government's monitoring and
enforcement agency for federal elections. Created in 1974, the FEC
consists of six commissioners who are appointed by the President and
confirmed by the U.S. Senate and serve six-year terms. By law, no more
than three commissioners may be of the same political party.
An unofficial but important term used by
election-watchers to refer to a candidate who has at least half as much
campaign money as her or his competitor.
The process of identifying contributors by determining
their addresses, occupations, employers, economic interests, political and
ideological affiliations, and spouses and children who may have
A minimum or set amount of public financing or other public
resources (e.g., free media or postage) available to all eligible
Follow the Money
Originally, the phrase is said to have been used by
"Deep Throat" to tell reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein how to
find out who was behind the 1972 Watergate break-in. Now, an expression
indicating that one needs to look at the sources of elected officials'
campaign contributions in order to understand how and in whose interests
public policy is made.
"Follow the money and you will find yourself opening a window on this
hidden game [of cash constituents looking for legislative favors] -- a
window that deserves to be pulled wide open for everyone to see." -- Larry
Makinson, Follow the Money Handbook
Free postage for official, non-campaign-related
correspondence conducted by federal office-holders. Used most heavily
during election years and thus considered an in-kind public subsidy to
incumbents that augments their financial advantage over challengers. In
1995, each U.S. Representative was entitled to use up to $150,000 per
election cycle for franking purposes. Allotment varies according to the
number of mail households in a district. The average allotment for FY 1995
Full Public Financing
An arrangement under which all of the campaign
funds used by candidates come from the government and none comes from
The election that follows political parties' selection
of their nominees (via caucus, convention, or primary election).
A list, or "Rolodex," of the names and addresses of
people who can be called upon to make major campaign contributions -- a
fundraiser's most valuable asset.
"The candidate [only] sees the person who raised the $10,000, the person
with the "Golden Rolodex" of campaign check-writers, and is quite
grateful. -- Investigator for the California Fair Political Practices
An ancient principle with a modern-day twist, meaning that
the those who have the gold, rule. Or, the candidates who receive the most
campaign money usually get elected, and the interests who supply the most
campaign money usually get favorable legislation. Term coined by Thomas
Ferguson, author of Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Parties and the
Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems.
The Capitol corridors where well-paid lobbyists wearing
fancy, Italian-styled, Gucci shoes, mingle with members of Congress. Term
from the book Showdown at Gucci Gulch -- Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the
Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform, by Jeffrey Birnbaum and Allen Murray.
Federally-regulated campaign contributions and other moneys
spent for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a federal election.
Occupation often listed on campaign finance reports for wives
of major contributors who give through their spouses (and other family
members) as a legal way of getting around individual contribution limits.
The overt, unabashed (and legal) taking of money, in the
form of campaign contributions, from groups and individuals who expect and
usually get privileged access and, often, various kinds of legislative and
"I've made a big fortune out of the game and I'm gettin' richer every day,
but I've not gone in for dishonest graft .... There's honest graft and I'm
an example of how it works." -- George Washington Plunkett, Tammany Hall
boss, circa 1905
A fee for giving a speech or making a public appearance.
Members of the executive branch of the federal government are prohibited
from receiving honoraria, as are members of the U.S. House (since 1989)
and U.S. Senate (since 1991), although they may designate a charity to
which an honorarium, of up to $2,000 per speech, may be sent.
A classification used by campaign finance
analysts to denote a person or group who makes a political donation in
support of a particular philosophy (e.g., libertarianism) or issue
(environmental protection) -- as opposed to business contributors and
A term used by campaign finance analysts, not one
defined by law, referring to a PAC organized around an idea, philosophy,
issue, or political party -- as opposed to a business or labor PAC.
A contribution of goods, services, or property
offered free or at less than the usual charge.
In-State (In-District) Contribution
Money donated to a candidate's
campaign committee by an individual residing in the state (or district) in
which the election is being held.
Person holding an elected office. Usually refers to an
elected official running for re-election.
An expenditure of money for advertisements or
other communications which expressly advocate the election or defeat of a
candidate, which is not made in conjunction or coordination with any
candidate or candidate's campaign committee. The U.S. Supreme Court has
ruled that independent expenditures constitute free speech and cannot be
limited by law.
Money contributed to a candidate's campaign
committee, a PAC, or a political party by a single person (or more than
one person on a single check), as opposed to a committee, or PAC,
Campaign contributions from individuals and groups
that have a vested interest (usually economic) in a particular legislative
or regulatory matter.
"If you're on [the House] Ways and Means [Committee] . . . anytime you
want you can have a cozy little lunch downtown and tell them [the
lobbyists] it's going to cost $1,000, or whatever it is, and the special
interests will flock -- flock -- to your luncheon." -- former U. S. Rep.
Don Edwards (D-Calif.)
Making a campaign contribution to an elected official
apparently with the hope of realizing a substantial return. For example,
during 1991-1992, the multinational conglomerate Archer-Daniels-Midland
(ADM) and affiliates gave $1.1 million in soft money contributions to
Republican Party committees and $267,500 to Democrats. ADM received a
waiver of an EPA ruling in the waning days of the Bush administration that
encouraged ethanol sales, earning millions of dollars for Andreas and ADM.
"[Special interests] are good business people. They're not going to throw
money down the drain. So they see this as an investment." -- former U. S.
Rep. Tim Valentine (D-N.C.)
A constitutionally-protected form of free speech to
which contribution limits do not apply, involving the use of political
advertisements and other mass communications that promote a position
regarding a political issue, such as military spending or welfare reform.
Groups and individuals who pay for such communications have sometimes been
charged with "express advocacy" -- that is, with advocacy that benefits
particular candidates, a practice which is regulated by federal and state
election law. The distinction between these two forms of advocacy is often
A fundraising event sponsored by more than one
candidate committee, PAC, or party committee.
A PAC run by one or more elected officials.
Contributions to leadership PACs are not treated as contributions to the
elected officials and therefore do not count against limits on giving to
A campaign contribution from a donor who clearly
expects favorable treatment from an elected official.
"The distinction between a campaign contribution and a bribe is a
hairline's difference." -- former U. S. Sen. Russell Long (D-La.)
Something a legislator does to benefit his or her
"The pay-off may be as obvious and overt as a floor vote in favor of the
contributor's desired tax loophole or appropriation. Or it may be subtle .
. . a floor speech not delivered . . . a bill pigeon-holed in subcommittee
. . . an amendment not offered . . . . Or the pay-off can come in a
private conversation with four or five key colleagues in the privacy of
the cloak room." -- former U. S. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.)
Level Playing Field
An electoral contest in which competing candidates
have equal resources with which to conduct their campaigns.
A person who tries to influence elected officials to take
action, or non-action, favorable to his or her interests, beliefs, or
clients. Black's Law Dictionary defines a lobbyist as "One who makes it a
business to procure the passage of bills pending before a legislative
body." The General Accounting Office found that fewer than 4,000 of the
13,500 individuals and organizations listed in Washington Representatives
were actually registered under the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act.
A way of avoiding or getting around the law, usually
associated with an omission or ambiguity in the law itself.
Lowest Unit Rate
The cheapest prices for a radio or TV advertisements
that broadcasters offer to their regular customers. Under various federal
campaign finance reform proposals, broadcasters would have to offer the
same prices, or rates, to federal candidates and their campaign
Public money given in a specific ratio (eg., 1:1, 2:1,
or 3:1) to candidates who succeed in raising prescribed amounts of private
money in individual contributions of a certain size. During presidential
primaries, for example, the federal government will match up to $250 of an
individual's total contributions to eligible presidential candidates. Also
a provision in Democratically Financed Elections proposal whereby
candidates who choose public financing option get additional money if
independent expenditures are made against them or if privately financed
opponents spend more than the public financing amount.
Making campaign contributions to candidates,
PACs, and parties up to the limit allowed by law. Federal election law,
for example, allows individuals to give a maximum of $1,000 per candidate
per election (primaries and run-offs are counted as separate elections);
$5,000 to a PAC per calendar year; $20,000 to a national political party
per calendar year; and a total of $25,000 to candidates, PACs, and parties
per calendar year. Major donors who max out often turn to soft-money
"Let's say I know I need to raise X amount of money for my campaign. So I
say: "Okay, what are the PACs I can hope to max out?" And you hope they'll
decide to max out with you." -- former U. S. Rep. Jolene Unsoeld (D-Wash.)
The absence of any limits, in federal,
state, or local campaign finance laws, on the amount wealthy candidates
can contribute to their own campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1976
Buckley v. Valeo ruling forbids this kind of limitation as an abridgment
of free speech.
"Given the vast sums of money required to run for office, increasing
numbers of very wealthy people are going into electoral politics -- and
winning." -- Jamin Raskin and John Bonifaz, The Wealth Primary: Campaign
Fundraising and the Constitution
Candidates' perpetual pursuit of campaign contributions.
The endless fundraising circuit, from cocktail party to executive suite to
hotel ballroom to union hall, and then back to the telephone.
"While I might be able to gather as much as $10 million, I would have to
spend more time in the living rooms of the wealthy raising money than I
could out in the communities raising issues, raising hopes and raising
hell." -- former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower explaining
why he chose not to run for the U.S. Senate in 1990
Making a campaign contribution to an
elected official (or to a campaign committee, PAC, or political party)
through one or more third parties -- as a device for disguising the
source of a contribution and getting around contribution limits. For
example, during 1989-1991, the Evergreen America Corp. funneled illegal
campaign contributions totaling $172,000 to local and state officials in
California in the form of $500 checks from dozens of Evergreen employees,
friends, and relatives whom the corporation had secretly reimbursed.
The flow of private dollars from particular vested
interests into the campaign coffers, leadership PACs, foundations, and
favorite causes of particular elected officials, or groups of elected
officials (such as those who sit on a particular committee).
A term coined by Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California
Assembly from 1961 to 1968.
"Money is the mother's milk of politics." -- Jesse Unruh
The FEC's designation for a PAC
or other political committee that has made contributions to at least five
The FEC's designation for a
free-standing PAC -- such as EMILY's List -- that has no sponsoring or
FEC term for any political committee
not operated by a political party. The term makes no distinction between
PACs and other non-party committees (e.g., candidate committees) even
though almost all the "non-party committee" contributions listed on
federal candidates' campaign reports are from PACs. This ambiguity can
cause problems when analyzing the reports.
National Republican Congressional Committee. Run by
Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives for the purpose of
raising money to support Republican candidates for the House. The NRCC
raised $26.7 million during the 1993-1994 election cycle.
National Republican Senatorial Committee. Run by
Republican members of the U.S. Senate for the purpose of raising money to
support Republican candidates for the Senate. The NRSC raised $65.4
million during the 1993-1994 election cycle.
A reference to the information contained in
campaign disclosure reports regarding the sources of candidates'
contributions. From the flagship publication of the Center for Responsive
Politics, Open Secrets. The four-volume series offers an analysis of
campaign contributions to federal candidates according to economic and
An election in which no incumbent is
Out-of-State (Out-of-District) Contribution
to a candidate's campaign committee by an individual residing outside the
state (or district) in which the election is being held. Voters in
Virginia, Kentucky, and Alaska have launched court challenges to the
constitutionality of out-of-state contributions, and voters in Oregon
banned both out-of-state and out-of-district contributions via a 1994
ballot initiative that has also been challenged in court. As of October
1995, these cases were still pending
Partial Public Financing
An arrangement under which a
portion of the campaign funds used by candidates comes from the
government, usually in the form of a grant that matches private money
raised. Twenty-three states provide partial public financing to
candidates, either directly or via political parties. The federal
government provides partial public financing to candidates in presidential
Pay to Play
A reference to the character of the American
political process: in order to be assured of access and influence with
elected officials, a person or group has to make significant contributions
to those officials' re-election campaigns.
"[If we didn't make PAC contributions] I wouldn't have the access . . . I
wouldn't know Governor X to the degree that we know the governor and his
staff; we wouldn't know Bob Y, the local congressman, as well as we know
him; and we wouldn't know the junior senator as well." -- PAC director
quoted in Money Talks by Dan Clawson.
The return on a campaign investment made by a
e.g., special appointments (such as
ambassadorships), tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory exemptions, committee
action to approve or block particular legislation.
"[I]t's not as if it's a specific payoff, like you get a bag of money one
night for voting a particular way. It's much harder to describe, and I
think in many ways it's much more insidious." -- former U. S. Rep. Peter
The common practice of continuous
fundraising throughout one's term in office in order to have as much money
on hand as possible for the next election, thus discouraging prospective
"Someone like me, in a very marginal seat, begins thinking about
re-election a day or so after he is sworn in for a new term -- if he
wants to get re-elected." -- former U. S. Rep. Jim Bacchus (D-Fla.)
Expenditure of campaign funds for such things
as the candidate's wardrobe, family vacations, or mortgage payments.
The wealthy elite who dominate American politics
by virtue of public officials' dependence on their campaign contributions,
or by virtue of their ability to use their money to win major public
office themselves. As campaigns become more expensive, more millionaires
are becoming candidates and getting elected. In 1992, 71 of 435 U.S.
Representatives (16 percent) and 26 of 100 U.S. Senators (26 percent) were
millionaires. Fewer than one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population are
Pockets of a Politician's Coat
An expression coined by Kent
Cooper of the Federal Election Commission that refers to the various
accounts for which politicians can solicit funds from contributors who may
want to gain access and influence. Examples include politicians'
re-election committees, "soft money" accounts for contributions to state
and local parties, their favorite charities, their "leadership" PACs,
non-profit foundations they head, their legal defense funds, and
politicians' own "pockets" for receiving personal loans, all-expenses-paid
family vacations, the free use of cars, planes, accommodations, etc.
Political Action Committee (PAC)
A popular term for a
political committee that is not a candidate's campaign committee or a
party committee, and that is organized for the purpose of raising and
spending money to elect and defeat candidates. Most PACs represent
business, labor, or ideological interests.
A non-profit, tax-exempt organization
set up by or on behalf of an elected official for the stated purpose of
conducting public education. In practice, such foundations are often used
to advance the political careers of particular politicians; because such
foundations can accept gifts of any size, moneyed interests use them to
curry favor with politicians without the constraint of campaign
Price of Admission
The amount of money it takes to be
elected to a major public office. For example, during the 1994
congressional elections, the average winner spent $516,000, and those
challengers who spent less than $150,000 lost 100 percent of the time.
An intra-party election for the purpose of
determining the party's nominee in the general election.
Principal Campaign Committee
The FEC's designation for the
main (or only) committee authorized by the candidate to raise and expend
funds to promote his or her election or re-election. Usually called the
"Committee to (Re-) Elect Pat Smith."
Campaign money supplied by the government
to eligible candidates. The federal government provides presidential
candidates with matching public funds in the primary and full public
financing in the general election. Twenty-three states provide partial
public financing to candidates for various state offices and/or to
A very small campaign contribution
(e.g., five dollars) to a candidate which the candidate uses to
demonstrate public support and thus become eligible for public financing,
as in Democratically Financed Elections proposal. See "Democratically
Quid Pro Quo
From the Latin, "something for something." What
vested-interest campaign contributors get from elected officials in return
for their financial backing (this may include a tax break, subsidy,
appointment, or regulatory exemption).
"[Some members] take these $500 or $5,000 contributions and then put $20
million in some bill for the corporation." -- former U. S. Rep. Peter
A person who raises large sums of money on behalf
of a candidate for public office.
"[E]very presidential candidate has recruited one or more rainmakers,
mostly men -- real estate developers, bankers, doctors, CEOs of Fortune
500 companies . . . [T]heir success or failure can make or break a
presidential candidacy." -- Newhouse News Service, April 23, 1995
Republican National Committee. The leadership,
administrative, and fundraising arm of the national Republican Party.
Raises money, including "soft money," for party activities.
A final, elimination election used to determine the
winner among the highest vote-getters in the previous, just-held election.
A practice permitted by the FEC whereby candidates
are allowed to "salt" their contributor lists with up to ten pseudonyms
accompanied by real addresses, as a way of catching anyone who might use
their lists to solicit money, which is prohibited by federal law.
Limited-size contributions given prior to the
primary campaign period to prospective candidates who are in the process
of raising qualifying contributions or exploring the feasibility of
running for office.
Separate Segregated Fund
The FEC's designation for a PAC
established by a corporation or labor organization.
A term coined by The New York Times that refers
to soft money.
Political money raised by national and state
parties that is not regulated by federal campaign finance law because, in
theory, it is for generic "party building" activities such as getting out
the vote. In practice, it is often used to benefit specific federal
candidates, and thus it has become a major vehicle for skirting the
limitations and restrictions of federal law. In 1992, the national parties
raised $83 million in soft money and an estimated $205 million more was
raised by state parties. Much of this money came in contributions of
$50,000 and $100,000.
A request for a campaign contribution.
The "invisible" campaign that the public
doesn't see in which candidates are quietly soliciting campaign
contributions from, and often making implicit commitments to, wealthy
donors. Also known as the "phantom campaign."
Campaign money left over after the election
and the payment of all of the campaign's outstanding bills and debts.
The practice by major campaign contributors of
channeling donations to legislators and other elected officials best
situated to further the contributors' agendas. For example, six of the top
10 U. S. House recipients of agribusiness contributions in 1994 sat on the
House Agriculture Committee, and all of the top 10 U. S. House and U. S.
Senate recipients of contributions from military contractors sat on
committees dealing with military spending.
A provision in eleven states' tax laws that
allows state taxpayers to add one or more additional dollars to their
annual income tax bill in order to pay for the partial public financing of
designated state elections. A voluntary tax surcharge.
A provision in federal and thirteen states'
tax laws that allows taxpayers to earmark their income-tax dollars to pay
for partial public financing of designated elections. Federal income-tax
forms include a voluntary $3 check-off for the presidential public
A form of indirect public financing used in
Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., meant to encourage small
individual campaign contributions and, in some cases, compliance with
voluntary spending limits. For example, Oregon offers a tax credit, in the
form a refund, of up to $50 for contributions made to political parties,
groups supporting or opposing ballot measures, and candidates who comply
with voluntary spending limits.
A form of indirect public financing used in
Arizona, California, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Oklahoma as a way of
encouraging small individual contributions. For example, Oklahoma offers
tax deductions of up to $100 for contributions to candidates and political
parties. From 1971 until 1986, when it was repealed, a similar provision
was part of federal income-tax law.
Testing the Waters
Exploring the feasibility of becoming a
candidate for a particular office. Money is often raised to pay for
activities related to testing the waters -- such as travel, telephone, and
polling costs -- and prospective candidates sometimes create
testing-the-waters, or exploratory, committees for that purpose.
State-imposed restrictions on the period of
time during which candidates for state office may accept campaign
contributions. For example, 21 states prohibit elected state officials
from accepting contributions during legislative sessions, from any source
or just from lobbyists. Alabama prohibits funds from being raised more
than twelve months before an election.
Begging for money by holding out the proverbial
tin cup, a task that many elected officials call demeaning and say they
are forced to undertake in order to remain competitive at election time.
In recognition of this phenomenon, Orange County, California passed a
campaign finance measure during the early 1990s called the "Tin Cup
Ordinance," from the acronym "T.I.N.C.U.P. -- the Time Is Now to Clean
"I was told . . . you are going to have to raise about $8,000 a day . . .
So I have to travel throughout the United States like a person with a tin
cup." -- U. S. Sen. John Breaux (D-La.)
Tip of the Iceberg
That part of the money trail that is
readily obvious from campaign disclosure reports. The unseen portion --
e.g., contributions from sources whose interests are hard to identify,
contributions made through third parties, and contributions to entities
favored by politicians but not officially connected to their re-election
campaigns -- usually requires investigative research Variable
Contribution Limits -- A provision in Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Rhode
Island's election law that allows candidates who comply with voluntary
campaign spending limits to accept contributions in larger amounts than
non-complying candidates are allowed to accept.
A person or group that has an economic or
ideological stake in the legislative and regulatory actions of government.
Sometimes called a "special interest," "economic interest," or "moneyed
"Think of the [congressional] committee and you can think of the interest
group or the company that will have an interest." -- former U. S. Rep.
Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio)
Usually a reference to the amount of money
candidates have or can raise for their campaigns. Viable (or, sometimes,
"credible") candidates are those considered to have enough money to win.
A proposed form of in-kind public financing by
which eligible candidates and/or political parties would receive
certificates entitling them to a specified amount of free campaign
resources, such as postage or media time. Under another kind of voucher
system, currently being explored in Wisconsin, registered voters would
receive government-issued scrip which they could contribute to candidates
of their choice who, in turn, could redeem it for campaign funds.
Campaign money built up by incumbents well in
advance of the next election in order to give them a financial head start
and discourage potential challengers. Often includes leftover campaign
money from the last election, as well as money raised early in the term.
After the 1994 elections, three victorious U. S. Senate candidates (Kay
Bailey Hutchison [R-Texas], Joseph Lieberman [D-Conn.], and Connie Mack
[R-Fla.]) had over $1 million on hand for the next race -- six years away.
In the U. S. House, 10 newly-elected representatives had a $600,000-plus
war chest; three -- David Drier (R-Calif.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and
Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) -- surpassed the million dollar mark with $2.3
million, $2.2 million, and $1.3 million, respectively.
A reference to the 1974, 1976, and 1979
amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Motivated largely
by the excesses and illegalities of President Nixon's 1972 re-election
campaign, these amendments comprise the bulk of federal campaign law
An unofficial but integral (and usually
decisive) part of the electoral process leading up to most primary and
general elections for major public office, in which individuals and groups
capable of making large campaign contributions effectively decide which
candidates will have the financial wherewithal to mount winning campaigns
and thus go on to govern. An exclusionary procedure in which only those
with money or access to money can "vote," wealth primaries have been
likened to Texas' racially exclusionary "white primaries" of the
post-World War I era, which were declared unconstitutional by the U.S.