Who Sponsors and Regulates U.S. Election Campaigns?


MONROVIA – Unlike most African countries, where people running for elected public offices are not accountable to their people, the United States laws hold politicians’ feet to the fire on full disclosure on election finance and the source of such funds.

Report by Massa Kanneh, [email protected], Contributor

In the United States, there is an Act called Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) enacted on February 7, 1972; it was passed by the 92nd Congress and signed into law by the United States 37th President Richard Nixon.

FECA is the only federal instrument that regulates political campaign spending and fund raising. 

The Act has been amended three times – 1974, 1976 and 1979 – since its enactment. The initial Amendment of 1974, sought legal limit on campaign contribution and expenditure. The 1974 Amendment also gave birth to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that oversees all United States Electoral Process.

The 1976 Amendment was as the result of the 1974’s rule that permitted limitations on campaign spending, said Provision and the Structure Of the FEC were ruled unconstitutional by Buckely V. Veleo.

Later in 1979, the Act was amended to allow parties to spend unlimited amount of hard money on activities like voters turnout. Hard money is a highly regulated direct contribution to a political parties or candidates.

And in same 1979, the FEC ruled that political parties could spend unregulated or soft money for non-federal administrative and party building activities. Soft Money refers to the indirect contribution to political parties and Political Action Committee (PAC).

Later, the soft money was used for candidate-related issue ads, which led to increase in soft money contributions and expenditures in elections. 

This in turn led to passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act Of 2002(BCRA), effectively on January 1, banning soft Money Expenditure by Parties and some of the Legal limits on Hard Money were also changed by BACRA. 

In addition to limiting the size of contributions to candidates and political parties, FECA also requires campaigns and political committees to report the names, addresses, and occupations of donors of more than $200.

Do Dark/Illegal Money Still Make Its Ways?

Dark money might sometimes be considered as illegal money from the donors are undisclosed. Most of the time, companies and big organizations are used to make these contributions.

During one of the Foreign Press Centers (FPC)’s Zoom Briefings, an expert on Campaign Finance Sheila Krumholz raised a concern on how some money, which she termed as “abstract money”, just as dark money makes their way to campaign without the public knowledge.

Krumholz said even though there are laws on campaign money, there are no specified mechanisms in place to provide transparency. She noted that Americans reliance is on the Supreme Court and Congress to set mechanisms and make sure these rules are adhered to.

“Every funding coming or use on Federal Election Campaign are to be disclosed but the laws are not effective and something needs to be done about that to secure the credibility of election process,” she said.

According to Krumholz, companies that are even making donations are likely having individuals sponsoring them in order to have their secret political will, noting it is troubling.

“Abstract money are not transparent, there are individual sponsors supporting a certain policy or individual candidate who are using companies and organizations to make their donations, and refunds are made later.

“The influence is troubling because it makes people to think that the system is not transparent,” she explained.

Another thing that raises concern to Dr. Krumholz is that dark money would taint a candidate’s reputation or character as no one knows where his/her support is from.

“Dark money is also damaging to the candidates – you want to make sure it’s not from an organized crime or drug cartel,” she said.

At the same time, she has said it is quite difficult to determine if the incumbent President seeking re-election does not use the public funds for campaign for all unofficial trips.

“It is difficult to know if an incumbent President is using public funds for campaign, where his official duties and trips are sponsored through the public.”

Only Americans living in the United States and abroad are allowed to donate money to election activities.

Biden/Trump Donation on Education 

According to Openscret.org, for this cycle, individuals associated with the education sector have reached a new spending high of almost $150 million through August. That’s $52 million more than the previous record in 2016 with more time left for additional donations before the election.

Political donations from the education industry historically go to Democrats. Candidates from that party received at least 70 percent of education industry donations every cycle since 2002. This cycle, over 90 percent ($129.6 million) of donations from educators have gone to Democrats. 

In the presidential election, over 85 percent of education industry donations have gone to Joe Biden. Educators donated $22 million to Biden, compared with $3.7 million to President Donald Trump. 

All of Biden’s largest sources of money in the field come from individuals affiliated with universities. Top donors include employees of the University Of California (about $1.4 million), Stanford University ($595,000) and Harvard University ($510,000). Meanwhile, affiliates of the University Of Pennsylvania, Trump’s alma mater, donated over $368,000 to the Democratic nominee and only $10,000 to the President.

From a Policy perspective, Biden is believed to be a proponent on the expansion for higher education in the U.S. His platform focuses on affordable college education and reducing student debt. He supports two years of tuition-free community college or equivalent vocational training for Americans, a policy he first proposed alongside President Barack Obama in 2015.

According to the Opensecret, None of Trump’s top donors in the education field come close to spending as much as Biden’s, but more come from affiliates of public institutions and not all are from universities. Affiliates of the New York City Board Of Education, the New York City Department Of  Education, the Clark County School District  and the Los Angeles Unified School District all made some of the largest contributions to Trump’s campaign.

Employees of the New York City Board of Education and the New York City Department of Education gave Trump over $52,000, despite the agencies having sued his administration earlier this summer. 

Employees of the LA Unified School District, the second largest district in the U.S., donated $24,000 to Trump despite clashing this summer for the President pronouncements on the resumption of School in July.

It seems Education is often a pressing issue in  elections, and though the education industry has set new donation records this cycle, as of August, educators still hadn’t donated as much to any one presidential candidate as they did to Clinton in 2016, who raised $27 Million 

Rich national party committees are transferring millions of dollars to affiliates in crucial swing states that could decide the fate of the 2020 presidential election. 

Of the two parties, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has transferred far more to state parties in key states this year than the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which is only starting to bring in big money in recent months thanks to record breaking fundraising from nominee Joe Biden.

Both committees made their largest transfers to Florida state parties, the DNC transferred $5.8 million and the RNC transferred $7.9 million indicating the Sunshine State is expected to be as competitive as ever. Republicans are  making voters registration  gains in Florida, the state that has decided each of the last six presidential elections.

How much is being spent on advertisement in 2020 Election?

The coronavirus pandemic spread rapidly crossed the globe with the United States being one of the highest hit countries, since 2019. The virus has been little or not managed at some level in the US, until the election period.

Now with the presence of the deadly Virus, many activities have been restricted during these election seasons, including in person Campaign.

For that many candidates and their political parties are anticipating on spending hugely on advertising their political ideology through radio and television and social media, as they go through the election process. 

Advertising Analytics has projected that $6.7 billion will be spent on ads in the 2020 Election.

Advertising Analytics has considered these figures, a cumulative $2.19 billion has been spent during the 2020 cycle, topping $1 billion of what was spent in 2016 and 2018.

In 2016 and 2018, 54 percent of the cycle’s total Cash was spent in the last 10 weeks. $443 million has been reserved for the Fall of 2020.