News / USA

US Presidential Race Is Hugely Expensive, Highly Regulated

Both major U.S. political parties - the Democrats and the Republicans - spend massive sums of money on the race to win the White House. This effort is highly regulated by U.S. laws meant to ensure accountability and transparency. In this segment of How America Elects, VOA's Jeffrey Young looks at campaign financing and the rules that control it.

The most expensive residential address in the United States is not in Hollywood - or Manhattan. It's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington - the White House. Its current occupant, Barack Obama, raised nearly $750 million in 2008 to win the presidency and move in there.  

The two major U.S. parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, are locked in a massive fundraising effort that escalates with every presidential election.

In 1992, the two parties raised a total of $135 million. Sixteen years later, in 2008, they collectively took in $1.68 billion.

Where does all that money go? At the independent research organization The Heritage Foundation in Washington, analyst Brian Darling outlines the high costs of campaigning.

"The advertisements that cost millions of dollars to run, be it radio or TV, the traveling expenses throughout the country - it's going to cost a lot of money for these candidates to travel on a daily basis, and also the massive campaign organizations that these candidates need to put together," said Darling.

In the 1970s, Congress created a federal regulatory agency called the Federal Election Commission, or F.E.C. Its twin goals are accountability and transparency, as outlined by Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly.

"Everything that campaigns and candidates and parties do in our [political] system is reported to our central location here at the F.E.C. And, that [information] is almost immediately available to anyone who wants it on our website," said Bauerly.

Current federal regulations limit presidential candidate contributions from individuals to $2,500, with most organizations limited to $5,000. Corporations and unions face strong restrictions.  

Along with creating the F.E.C., Congress also created a system of public financing, under which, in exchange for government funds, candidates accept limits on other cash they might raise. But in the 2012 presidential race, no candidates from either party have accepted public funding.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that outside advocacy groups have the right to raise and spend money to influence elections. These political action committees, commonly called "PACs," have increasingly become a major force in the electoral process.

"Really, there are few rules here for these groups," said reporter David Levinthal at the Politico newspaper in Washington. "They can raise and spend unlimited sums of money. They can spend it whenever they want to. There is no time limitation. The messaging they put out is not limited. They can directly, overtly, advocate for a candidate's election - or directly, overtly oppose a candidate."

Observers say the 2012 presidential election may be the first in which this outside "PAC" money may wind up exceeding what the candidates and their parties officially raise for themselves. And there are some who say they fear what may become a tsunami of outside money essentially determining elections.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs