Updated 11-6-97


The Current System

Reform Proposals

Other Approaches

Key Terms


AllPolitics' Special Fund-Raising Section

Related Stories
TIME: Washington's Debating Campaign Finance (9/29/97)

TIME: The Wake-Up Call (2/3/97)

What's Legal And Not In Non-U.S. Citizen Donations
By Brooks Jackson/CNN

Related Sites
FECInfo Home Page

Brookings Working Group on Campaign Finance Reform

Federal Election Commission

Common Cause president Ann McBride asserts spending limits are key, while Cato Institute president Edward Crane urges abolishing contribution limits. (25/11/96)

Take A Stand
Should soft money be banned?
The Tally


in focus

Campaign Reform

Key Terms

Bundling. In this practice, small donations are combined and delivered to campaigns by an individual or group. It's a way for an interest group to stay within legal limits on individual contributions, yet demonstrate its money-raising prowess. The McCain-Feingold legislation would ban most instances of bundling.

Compulsory Union Dues. Noting that not all union members are Democrats, Republicans seek to prohibit unions from spending workers' required union dues on political activities (activities which have largely been in support of Democratic candidates). It's a key issue for Republicans in the campaign finance debate.

FEC. The Federal Election Commission. Founded in 1974, it is the federal agency that oversees federal campaigns. It's considered something of a toothless watchdog, however. It has proven to be very slow to act and not very effective in combatting campaign abuses.

Full Disclosure. Many Republicans believe that in the debate over in money and politics, what really matters is knowing where candidates' money is coming from. "Full disclosure" simply refers to a process whereby candidates would be required to disclose publicly the source of all their campaign contributions.

Hard Money. These are funds that can be spent directly on a presidential or congressional campaign.

Independent Expenditures. Some groups spend money on activities that support presidential candidates, but have no direct link to the candidate's campaign, and thereby are able to get around spending limits. An example of this was the infamous "Willie Horton" ad that attacked Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis' prison furlough policy in Massachusetts. Though the ad was clearly designed to buttress President Bush's re-election effort, the group that made the ad was independent of the Bush campaign.

Matching Funds. In presidential campaigns, primary candidates who agree to limit their spending during the primaries to $37 million are eligible for dollar-for-dollar matching funds from the federal government.

McCain-Feingold. Refers to a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) that would ban soft money, ban PAC contributions and provide incentives (free broadcasting, lower media costs, lower postal costs) to candidates to abide by spending limits.

PACs. Political action committees are essentially groups of individuals united by similar interests. They range from business groups to labor groups to single-issue groups. By law, they can only donate $5,000 per candidate per election.

Public Financing. To lessen the need for constant fund-raising and level the playing field for challengers, many reformers favor having the federal government pay all or part of the cost of campaigns. Democrats generally favor the idea; Republicans generally oppose it.

Soft Money. These are funds raised by the political parties that are used, ostensibly, only for party building efforts and not for direct support of federal candidates. In practice, most believe the money ends up helping candidates just as much as the party organizations. Currently, there is no limit on what the parties can raise.

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