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US Presidential Candidates Collectively Raise Record Sum

The total amount of money raised by the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates may, by the time Election Day 2008 comes about, approach or even break $1 billion. For just the first nine months of 2007, presidential candidates in the two major parties have already collected a total of $415 million. In this segment of How America Elects, VOA's Jeffrey Young looks at campaign financing and the controversies surrounding it.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. is the most expensive residential address in the United States. To win four years of occupancy at the White House, both major political parties, the Democratic and the Republican, are more than willing to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in the fight for the presidency.

And in each new presidential race, the sums rocket even higher. Total contributions to both Democratic and Republican Party presidential candidates went from $135 million in 1992 to $671 million in 2004.

Analyst Brian Darling at the conservative research organization The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. explains why the two major parties need to raise huge sums to compete with each other. "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,” he said.

At the start of the 1970s, Congress enacted laws that led to the creation of the Federal Election Commission. FEC Spokesman Bob Biersack outlines its oversight role. He says, "If you want to run for President of the United States, you are required to comply with a series of laws including restrictions on how money is raised, and how it is spent and used in those campaigns."

Current federal regulations limit presidential candidate contributions from individuals to $2,300, with organizations limited to $5,000.

The Federal Election Commission requires that candidates file quarterly reports listing both contributions and expenses. These records are open to the public, including on the Internet.

Laura MacCleery is with an independent advocacy group called Public Citizen in Washington, D.C. She recounts how the public pressed Congress in the 1970s for an alternative to traditional presidential campaign fundraising. "So, one of the things that happened was that they [Congress] established the presidential public funding system for campaigns."

But in the 2000 and 2004 presidential races, the Democratic and Republican Parties chose not to accept public funding, allowing them to spend without restriction. The same is expected to happen in the 2008 White House contest.

But some Americans, including Laura MacCleery at Public Citizen, want presidential campaign donations done away with entirely. MacCleery says, "The ultimate solution, of course, is public funding of elections, and that is what we are pushing for next."

Others say that giving money to political candidates is part of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment right of free speech, and cannot be eliminated. And as November 2008 gets closer, the campaign contribution cash piles will continue to grow.