Chapter 14

O’Connor and Sabato

American Government:

Continuity and Change


In this chapter we will cover…

•    The Structure of a Campaign

•    The Candidate or the Campaign:

•    Which Do We Vote For?

•    Modern Campaign Challenges

•    Contributions and Expenses

•    Campaign Finance Laws

The Structure of a Campaign

All political campaigns can be viewed as a series of several campaigns that run simultaneously.

Do We Vote for the
Candidate or the Campaign?

•      The most important factor in any campaign is the candidate (he/she is even more important than money).

•      Campaigns are able (most of the time) to downplay a candidate’s weaknesses and emphasize her strengths.

•       However, even the best campaigns cannot put an ineffective candidate in the win column – most of the time.

•      Most people vote for a candidate not the campaign.

Campaign Challenges

Contributions and Expenses

•      Campaigns are VERY expensive.

•      House races can cost over $1 million but usually cost $400-700,000 for incumbents, less for challengers.

•      Senate races cost much more.

•      All political money is regulated by the federal government under the Federal Elections Campaign Act of 1971, 1974, and 1976.

Campaign for the Senate, 2002

Soft Money

•      Soft money is money with no limits or rules that is raised and spent outside of federal election guidelines.

•      Soft money is often used to pay for ads that do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

•      As long as these ads do not use the words “vote for,” “elect,” “vote against” or the like, ads can be paid for with unregulated soft money.

•      Many argue that the huge infusion of unregulated soft money has destroyed the federal campaign laws.

FECA - Individuals

•      FECA limits individuals to contributions of $1,000 per election, per candidate ($1,000 in the primary and another $1,000 in the general election).

•      Individuals may give a maximum of $25,000 in gifts to all candidates combined in any calendar year. Individuals may also give up to $20,000 to a party each year.


•     PACs may donate $5,000 per candidate, per election.

•     There are over 4,000 PACs registered with the FEC.

•     PACs gave over $200 million to congressional candidates in 1996 (individuals gave $444 million).

FECA - Parties

•      Parties also donate money to candidates. The Republican and Democratic parties give tens of millions to congressional candidates.

•      Wealthy members of Congress and state legislatures often also donate monies to candidates of their party.

•      Some members of Congress establish their own PACs to give money.  Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey has a PAC.

Personal Contributions

•      In Buckley v. Valeo (1976) the Supreme Court struck down limits on personal campaign spending.

•      Spending your own money on your campaign is a free speech right.

•      Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, and other wealthy Americans have taken advantage of their personal wealth in their quest for office.