How long have political candidates been spending money on their campaigns?
The practice dates back to our nation’s founding fathers, according to Dennis Pogue, a George Washington biographer.1 Apparently, Washington lost his first race back in 1755 because unlike his opponent, he failed to provide alcoholic beverages to voters at the polls. Three years later, Washington ran again and won a seat to the House of Burgesses. He spent $195 on food and drink for voters. Shortly afterward, the legislature crafted a law making the practice illegal, prohibiting candidates from rewarding people who vote, according to a timeline of campaign finance reform by Ballotpedia.2
But, local, state and federal candidates still have plenty of things to buy as they get the word out about themselves to voters through television and radio advertisements, signs, pamphlets and mailings. Staff, office space and supplies also might be needed to get all those things done.
1 Paul Bedard, George Washington Plied Voters with Booze, U.S. News & World Report (Nov.8, 2011).
2 History of Campaign Finance. Ballotpedia: The encyclopedia of American Politics. Retrieved from: https://ballotpedia.org/History_of_campaign_finance_regulation.
Are there any laws governing campaign finance?
Yes. At various times in our country’s history, usually when there have been abuses of power or scandal, lawmakers have decided to regulate who can make campaign donations, what kinds of expenditures can be made, and how those financial details are disclosed to the public. The federal government has regulations governing Congress and the president, while states have their own laws regulating state and local campaigns. That means campaign finance laws differ from state to state.
The court system also has played an important role in determining the legality of regulations. Several cases have addressed the constitutionality of campaign finance limits on contributions and expenditures, and whether they violate the First Amendment rights of free speech.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent regulatory agency charged with enforcing campaign finance law in federal elections.1 Six voting members, three Republican and three Democrat, serve staggered, six-year terms and are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.
Since 1970, the Illinois State Board of Elections has been supervising the registration of voters and administration of elections in Illinois.2 Voters are responsible for electing 40,000 public officials to state and local offices in Illinois. At the local level, there are nearly 7,000 units of local government, giving Illinois the most local units of government of any state in the nation.
Like the FEC, the Illinois State Board of Elections has a bipartisan board. Eight members, four Republicans and four Democrats, make up the board. Further, the board must be geographically diverse. Two of each party are from Cook County and the rest are from downstate with the governor appointing four members from his/her party and then selecting from a list of nominees provided by the highest-ranking official of the other political party. Board members hold staggered, four-year terms.
1 Federal Election Commission, Mission and History.
2 The Illinois State Board of Elections, 10 ILCS 5/1A.
How expensive are campaigns?
Campaigns can cost as little or as much as a candidate chooses to raise and spend. An unchallenged race for a local township position may not require much money for campaigning, but a mayoral race in a big city can be expensive. Chicago’s mayoral seat cost big bucks in 2015 with Rahm Emanuel spending at least $22.8 million on his campaign, as noted in this Chicago Tribune article.1
The same goes for state races. Not much may be required to campaign for an unchallenged Illinois House race, but the campaign for a governor’s post is sure to cost more. Many organizations, like the BGA and news outlets, have reported on the upcoming 2018 gubernatorial election in Illinois, which is expected to beat out the most expensive gubernatorial race to date.2
Experts say spending on the race will surpass the $252 million spent for the California seat in 2010. Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics tracks campaign spending and reports the average U.S. House seat costs more than $1 million in campaign expenditures, while Senate seats cost $10 million or more.3 The organization and many others also report the obvious—the presidency is the most expensive seat in the land.4 Close to a whopping $6.6 billion was spent by the candidates, political parties and outside groups in the 2016 general election race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
1 Rick Pearson and Hal Dardick, Emanuel, allies spent at least $22.8 million to win, Chicago Tribune (Apr.16, 2015).
2 Tim Jones, Illinois Governor's Race On Pace To Be Most Expensive in U.S. History, Better Government Association (June.6, 2017).
3 OpenSecrets.org, Center for Responsive Politics, Politicians & Elections.
4 OpenSecrets.org, Center for Responsive Politics, Total cost of 2016 election could reach $6.6 billion, CRP predicts, OPENSECRETS NEWS (Oct.25, 2016).
How are campaigns funded?
1. Individuals can finance their own campaigns, a practice obviously only available to wealthy candidates who can afford it.
2. Candidates at all levels of government hold fundraisers to raise money for their campaigns. They get money from individual contributors, interest groups, political action committees (PACs), organizations, and lobbyists. The Federal Election Commission offers information on its website detailing who can and can’t contribute to a campaign.1
Interestingly, minors using their own money (not given to them as a gift to give as a contribution and given freely) can give money to campaigns. Also, those with a green card indicating they are lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the U.S. are eligible to make contributions. Polls show less than 10 percent of Americans have given any money to any campaign be it at the local, state or federal levels, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.2 The Center has found that large individual donations and PACS have a great impact on campaign spending.
3. The FEC provides specifics about which groups and individuals are barred from contributing to federal candidates.3 Those include corporations, labor organizations, federal government contractors, foreign nationals, and national banks. But candidates can accept contributions from PACs established by those groups.
Some money also is spent in an indirect way.
Consider Super PACs and 527 groups:
Super PACs: An independent expenditure-only committee that raises and spends unlimited amounts of money. Donations come from individuals, corporations, unions and associations and are used to campaign for or against a political candidate.)
527 groups: A tax-exempt political organization that can raise unlimited funds from corporations, individuals and labor unions, but must register with the FEC and IRS, and disclose their contributions and expenditures. These groups can influence elections, issues, policies and appointments at all levels of government. They may not directly give money to federal candidates, but can make donations to state and local candidates following state laws.
Both Super PACs and 527 groups can produce communications to sway public opinion for or against a candidate or issue, but must do so without working with the candidate. Through independent expenditures, groups like corporations and unions can pay for ads, phone campaigns and printed materials out of their treasuries and through other organizations. As long as the expenditures are disclosed, individuals, corporations and unions also can spend money on activities that influence elections.
4. In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt championed the use of public financing for campaigns, but it remains the “least-used method of regulating money in elections,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.4 Like Theodore Roosevelt, those in favor of public financing believe that it is a good idea for candidates to receive public money so they won’t be influenced by or beholden to private donors. Public financing is used at the federal, state and local levels. Only 13 states have public funding for some races, the NCSL reports.5
In the Midwest, Wisconsin and Michigan are among them. Meanwhile, New York City has a small-dollar public matching funds program. Public funds also are available to presidential candidates if they agree to certain rules. FactCheck.org does a good job of explaining this option.6 In short, the money is taken from a fund raised by income tax dollars that taxpayers can choose to earmark for public financing right on their tax filing.
1 Federal Election Commission, Who can and can’t contribute.
2 OpenSecrets.org, Center for Responsive Politics, Small Donors Make Good Press, Big Donors Get You Reelected.
3 Federal Election Commission, supra note 1.
4 National Conference of State Legislatures, Overview of State Laws on Public Financing.
6 Emi Kolawole, What is Public Financing?, FactCheck.org, A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (April.1, 2008)
Is there anyone who can’t give money to a campaign?
The FEC spells out the rules in federal races. No one can accept campaign donations from national banks, nationally chartered corporations like a federally chartered savings and loan association, or from most foreign nationals.1 If a foreign national is granted permanent residence in the United States, then he or she can contribute to a campaign. These rules also apply to state and local races.
Otherwise, individual states have their own laws regarding campaign finance at state and local levels. In Illinois, campaign finance laws address “pay-to-play,” the idea that a business would give a candidate money in order to receive a government contract or some other advantage. The state’s Chief Procurement Office has a nice explanation here.
1 Federal Election Commission, Who can and can’t contribute.
Who has to file campaign disclosures with the Federal Election Commission and the Illinois State Board of Elections?
At the federal level, an individual becomes a candidate for the Senate or House of Representatives once $5,000 has been raised or spent on a campaign. At that point, the candidate must designate a campaign committee to take contributions and make expenditures on behalf of the campaign. That committee also must file disclosure forms with the FEC.1 National and state political parties must register with the FEC and also report their contributions and expenditures.
While corporations and labor organizations can’t make contributions directly to federal candidates, they can create a political committee called a separate segregated fund (SSF).2 They can solicit funds, make contributions to candidates and spend funds coordinated with candidates. An SSF also must submit filings to the FEC. Meanwhile, Political Action Committees, other organizations that wish to support candidates (called non-connected committees or PACS), also must file with the FEC. The FEC offers online access to make all of these filings.
In Illinois, candidates, individuals, groups of people or any organizations who accept contributions or make expenditures of more than $5,000 in a 12-month period; or who have received or spent more than $5,000 in a 12-month period for electioneering communication (broadcast, cable or satellite communication making an appeal to vote for or against a clearly identified candidate, political party or question of public policy) within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary; or who have made independent expenditures greater than $5,000 within a 12-month period must file with the state.
Contributions are defined as cash, loans or anything of value received in connection with an election or for political purposes. Individuals making independent expenditures of more than $3,000 to support or oppose a particular candidate during a 12-month period also must file. The Illinois State Board of Elections also offers online access to filings.
1 Federal Election Commission, Federal Election Commission Campaign Guide, Congressional Candidates and Committees June 2014, Chapter 12, p.79.
2 Federal Election Commission, Corporations and Labor Organizations.
Are any campaign donations and expenditures anonymous?
Individuals can give $50 cash to federal campaigns anonymously. Candidates only have to disclose the names of donors who give $200 or more. National Public Radio offers a good explanation of how donations made to organizations that then make donations to Super PACs also can be anonymous.1 On the flip side, candidates must disclose all expenditures over $200 to an individual or vendor.
Also the Federal Communications Commission requires that any television or radio ads include sponsorship identification messages during any broadcast and that the true identity of the person or organization be fully and fairly disclosed.
Meanwhile, Illinois law requires that communications identify the committee paying for any part of the communication from its production to distribution. It is not required for public polling used to gauge public opinion. Federal law also requires an individual or group paying for a communication to identify themselves in that communication.
1 Peter Overby, Viveca Novak, Robert Maguire, Secret Persuasion: How Big Campaign Donors Stay Anonymous, NPR News (Nov.6, 2013).
Why is it important to track campaign contributions and expenditures?
Campaign donations tend to go to those already in office (see the Center for Responsive Politics) and to those with powerful positions within government.1 Because major issues and votes usually take years to come before Congress, the biggest campaign contributors build their influence by giving to candidates year after year.2
In Illinois, disclosure has been at the heart of campaign finance regulations.
1 OpenSecrets.org, Center for Responsive Politics, The Top 10 Things Every Voter Should Know About Money-In-Politics, Money Follows Power.
2 OpenSecrets.org, Center for Responsive Politics, The Top 10 Things Every Voter Should Know About Money-In-Politics, Donors Seek A Long-Term Relationship.
Where can I look up specific campaign contributions and expenditures?
- Follow the money and see who has influence in this state.
- The Center for Responsive Politics has a guide on how to navigate the world of campaign finance documents; click here for that resource.
- Look up data directly from the Federal Election Commission here.
- Check out contributions made to Illinois state and local candidates at the Illinois State Board of Elections.
- The Illinois’ Comptroller’s office offers a database of state contracts and campaign contributions called OpenBook.
- Illinois Sunshine is a searchable database of all campaign contributions and expenditures received and spent across Illinois with records of campaign spending since 1994. It also offers top candidate, Super PAC, independent expenditure and ballot initiative committees, ranked by funds available. Information about Illinois’ lobbyists can be found on the site as well.
I want some analysis about campaign transactions. Where can I find comparisons and reports?
The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics offers all kinds of comparisons and explanations about donations and expenditures. Peruse the site and look at the activity of PACs, lawmakers, dark money groups, political filings to the Federal Communications Commission and other documents. The organization also has tracked contributions and sorted them into categories for labor, ideology and 10 different business sectors to show how different groups influence campaigns.
Ballotpedia has a state-by-state comparison of campaign finance laws. It also offers profiles of what it refers to as “influencers” – individuals, corporations, nonprofits, or other groups – that influence elections and policies. The site also offers some information and reports on contributions and spending at the federal, state and local levels of government.
You can compare state campaign finance laws at the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
I think a candidate or group violated the law. Where can I file a complaint?
Campaign finance seems to have its own lingo. What’s a Super PAC? Dark money?
A full glossary of campaign finance terms can be found on the Center for Responsive Politics site, but here are some common ones:
PAC – Political Action Committees – usually representing businesses, ideological interests or labor unions -- form to raise and spend money to campaign for or against candidates. They register with the FEC and have contribution limits of up to $5,000 for a candidate committee per election, $5,000 to any other PAC, and $15,000 annually to national party committees. A federal PAC can donate to federal and state campaigns by also following state laws. It can also form a nonfederal PAC to make donations at the state and local levels.
PACs established and run by corporations, labor unions, membership organizations or trade associations may only solicit funds from individuals associated with the sponsoring organization. Donations to such PACs are in separate segregated funds (SSFs). Nonconnected PACs are free to solicit contributions from the general public and are not affiliated with a particular organization or corporation.
Politicians often form Leadership PACs to raise money and fund other candidates’ campaigns.
Political Committee – Individuals acting together to influence a federal election. Those that raise and spend more than $1,000 a year must register, keep records on financial transactions and file reports on activities.
Super PAC – An independent expenditure-only committee that raises and spends unlimited amounts of money. Donations come from individuals, corporations, unions and associations and are used to campaign for or against a political candidate. A Super PAC (unlike a traditional PAC) can’t give money directly to a candidate or to an organization that gives money directly to a candidate.
Donors may include individuals, corporations, labor organizations or other political committees, but may not include federal contractors, foreign nationals, national banks or federally chartered corporations. A U.S.-based subsidiary of a foreign corporation can set up a Super PAC. Donors must be disclosed monthly or semiannually on off-years and monthly in election years. Some Super PACs support one candidate and are referred to as single-candidate super PACs.
Hybrid PAC – Has two separate accounts, one for unlimited contributions and independent expenditures and another that follows the rules of a traditional PAC.
Lobbyist – Lobbying laws vary across the nation, but all define a lobbyist as someone who tries to influence government action through written or oral communication on behalf of another for compensation. They work at all levels of government.1
527 groups – These tax-exempt political organizations get their name from the 527 tax code that governs them. They can raise unlimited funds from corporations, individuals and labor unions, but must register with the FEC and IRS, and disclose their contributions and expenditures. These groups usually exist for the purpose of influencing elections, issues, policies and appointments at all levels of government. They may not contribute directly to a federal candidate, but can make donations to state and local office following state laws.
501 (c)(4) – These social welfare organizations are only allowed to use less than half of their resources on political activities. In other words, their primary purpose can’t be politics. The National Rifle Association and Sierra Club are examples of these organizations.
Independent expenditure – Money spent on a political campaign communication that advocates for the election or loss of an identified candidate. But the funding is not made with the cooperation, consultation or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, candidate’s authorized committee or political party. Attack ads are often funded this way. Political parties also can make independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate.
Dark Money – In some situations, groups can spend money to influence elections that doesn’t have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission. Because funding for advertisements airing within 30 days of a primary of 60 days of a general election that focus on candidates must be reported to the FEC, outside groups often pay for ads that appear outside of those deadlines. The public then is kept in the dark about who is trying to influence votes.
Grey Money -- Also, individuals can contribute to organizations like nonprofit 501(c)(4), social welfare groups, and 501(c)(6), trade association groups that don’t have to disclose their donor lists. Those groups in turn can give money to PACs, hiding the identity of the original donors.
Electioneering Communication – Any broadcast, cable or satellite communication aimed at 50,000 or more potential voters that refers to a clearly identified federal candidate, is publicly distributed for a fee and is distributed within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election.
Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act – Federal taxpayers can check a box on their income tax returns ($3 for individuals and $6 for joint filers) to send money directly to a U.S. Treasury fund set aside to be used in presidential elections. Qualified presidential candidates can use the funds in the general election to match private contributions, but must agree to spending limits.
Bundling – This is a legal practice in which an individual or group, called a conduit or bundler, collects contributions for a candidate and then delivers a “bundle” to a candidate. In some cases, contributions must be disclosed. It also occurs when organized contributions from individuals in the same industry or interest group are sent to a candidate around the same time. The idea is that the “bundle” has greater influence with a campaign and candidate than individual checks.
1 National Conference of State Legislatures, How States Define Lobbying and Lobbyist.
What is the history of federal campaign finance?
Taking a historical look at campaign finance laws in America reveals lawmakers’ efforts to keep out corruption and to require transparency. Many of the laws and provisions described in the timeline below have been changed by lawmakers or deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. To see current regulations and laws, visit www.fec.gov.
This is a brief summary of the history of campaign finance in America with information taken from Ballotpedia, an online encyclopedia of politics and elections. For a more comprehensive look, visit Ballotpedia here.
1800s Federal lawmakers regulated campaign finance for the first time in 1867 by making it illegal for government officials to solicit naval yard workers for money. Early laws focused on patronage, barring federal candidates from asking people working for the government for campaign money.
1900s Disclosure was addressed in the early 1900s. Laws required candidates to disclose their finances and also set spending limits for congressional candidates. In 1921, the Supreme Court weighed in through Newberry v. United States and threw out many of the regulations, saying Congress did not have constitutional authority to regulate political parties or federal primary elections. Following the ruling, Congress came back with more regulations featuring bans on corporate contributions to federal campaigns, disclosure and spending limits. Public funding of federal elections first was proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, but it didn’t begin until the 1970s.
In 1943, the first political action committee (PAC) formed as a result of a law prohibiting unions from using dues as political donations. The Congress of Industrial Organization gave union members a way to voluntarily contribute.
1960s-70s While campaign finance reports began to be collected by Congress in 1967, the 1970s saw a major overhaul of campaign finance regulations. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) was approved in 1971, requiring full reporting of campaign contributions and expenditures, and setting spending limits on media advertisements. Meanwhile, the 1971 Revenue Act allowed citizens to check a box on their tax forms to give a dollar to the federal government to finance presidential campaigns in the general election. PACS also were regulated.
Teeth were added to the regulations in 1974 when the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was created and given the task of handling the disclosure of campaign finance transactions, the interpretation and civil enforcement of the Federal Election Campaign Act, and managing the presidential public financing program. The commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans.
During this time period, the Supreme Court ruled on the new laws in Buckley v. Valeo, upholding the disclosure requirements and contribution limits, but overturning spending limits as a violation of First Amendment rights because limiting spending would limit the quantity of campaign speech. This ruling in favor of free speech would become a trend for the court.
In 1976, the first publicly funded presidential election took place.
2000s The next big reform was approved in 2002. The McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) aimed to limit the use of “soft money.” The act prohibits national party organizations from raising or spending money not subject to federal limits, even for state and local campaigns. Prior to its adoption, parties could raise unlimited funds for organization-building activities like voter registration drives. However, 501(c) and 527 organizations were exempted from the soft-money ban. But the act prohibited most Electioneering Communications (broadcast ads through television, radio, cable or satellite) from referring to a federal candidate, targeting voters and appearing within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.
In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama became the first presidential candidate to forgo public financing for his campaign. In 2012, both presidential candidates opted not to accept public financing for their campaigns.
The Supreme Court in 2010 reversed part of the BCRA provisions, those that banned independent expenditures by corporations and labor unions. The ruling, which was on the Citizens United v. FEC case, determined that type of spending constituted free speech. And in 2014, the court ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC removed a cap on how much money a single donor, individuals and PACs, can give to a candidate or party committee. Again, the court ruled that limits on donations restrict free speech.
So the Supreme Court has significantly altered campaign finance regulations. Where can I see more?
For a summary of Supreme Court rulings on campaign finance laws, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.
What is the history of campaign finance in Illinois?
For current regulations, visit the Illinois State Board of Elections.
The Watergate scandal prompted many states, including Illinois, to enact laws regulating campaign contributions and expenditures in the mid-1970s. Illinois lawmakers opted to require transparency through reporting and disclosure.
In 1974, the state adopted a campaign finance law calling for campaign contributions and spending to be reported yearly and allowing the disclosure of those transactions. Other than that, there were no restrictions on contributions or expenditures. Self-regulation was the idea, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield. “The thinking is that you won’t spend money that will get you in the newspaper and embarrass your mother,” he explained.
The law remained unchanged until 1990 when campaign disclosures had to be made twice a year, according to a paper co-authored by Redfield in 2012 for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.1
Significant reforms didn’t occur until Redfield began digging into campaign finance records and shedding light on some legal, but questionable practices. Reporters at Springfield’s State Journal-Register did as well. Some examples in the early 1990s included a state senator using campaign funds at a car dealership in Florida and also paying himself monthly from his campaign fund.
Another retired lawmaker borrowed money from his fund and used at least part of it to build a house. It was not illegal for campaign money to be spent on personal things as long as income taxes were paid on the money.2 Meanwhile, the State Journal-Register also found that between July 1991 and June 1992, at least 14,000 contracts worth $1.6 billion went to individuals and businesses that had contributed to statewide campaigns in 1990.
The documentation gave momentum to a call for campaign finance reform in Illinois. In 1994, the Illinois Campaign Finance Project was created by the Institute for Public Affairs and Illinois Issues, both at the University of Illinois Springfield, to push for reform. A bipartisan task force chaired by U.S. Sen. Paul Simon and former Gov. William Stratton created an extensive analysis of campaign contributions and crafted 19 recommendations for reform. The non-profit organization, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, was founded in 1997 as a result of that work.
Significant campaign finance and ethics reforms were approved in 1997, 1998 and in 2003 and 2008. Laws in the 1990s banned gifts to elected state officials, government employees and judges from people who had an interest in decisions made by those elected officials and workers.
Other laws required the electronic filing of political committee reports that met a monetary threshold, required those filings to be available to the public in an online searchable database, allowed searches of the database to be anonymous, prohibited the personal use of campaign funds, banned fundraising events in Springfield on days the Legislature was in session, banned the soliciting or receiving of campaign contributions on state property; and increased the fines for violations of the campaign finance law.3
In 2003, a comprehensive ethics bill was approved that tightened gift ban restrictions, and established ethics commissions and executive inspectors general for each statewide constitutional office and the Legislature. Despite those laws, a report released in 2007 by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said Illinois needed more campaign finance reform.4 Its biggest criticism was that anyone could spend any amount of money to influence an election in Illinois.
In 2008, the Chicago Tribune ran a story showing Governor Rod Blagojevich had raised more money in single contributions of $25,000 or more than any other candidate in the history of the state.5 It also linked those contributions to contracts, board appointments and other favorable government actions for three-fourths of those donors. The pattern of those links is called “pay-to-play.” Later that year, Illinois lawmakers passed a bill creating pay-to-play restrictions. A year later in 2009, Illinois passed a reform bill placing limits on contributions for the first time in state history.
Some current laws in Illinois include barring campaign events in Sangamon County when the Legislature is in session, with an exception for candidates whose districts are located entirely within the county. Also, the solicitation, acceptance and offer of political contributions are not allowed on state property unless it occurs in a portion of a state building rented or leased by a private person or entity.
1 Cynthia Canary, Kent Redfield, Lessons Learned: What the successes and failures of recent reform efforts tell us about the prospects for political reform in Illinois, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute (Oct. 2012)
2 Ed Wojcicki, Still the Wild West? A 10-Year Look at Campaign Finance Reform in Illinois, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute (Sep. 2006).
3 Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, supra note 1.
4 Suzanne Novak, Seema Shah, Campaign Finance in Illinois, Brennan Center for Justice (2007).
5 Jeffrey Meitrodt, Ray Long, John Chase, The governor’s $25,000 club, Chicago Tribune (April.27, 2017).
What reforms are being considered?
- Because the FEC is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, it often deadlocks along party lines. Some people would like to see a seventh member added.
- Following the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, outside groups reportedly spent about $300 million on campaigns, largely favoring conservative candidates and helping Republicans take control of the House of Representatives. Because more than 40 percent of that funding came from undisclosed sources (see the Center for Responsive Politics), some people would like to see a requirement that donors reveal their identities.
- The nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., would like to see Small Donor Democracy programs used more, saying candidates are too reliant on funding from a small number of wealthy donors and special interests. In Small Donor Democracy programs, candidates are eligible for matching public funds or a mix of public/private funds after receiving a certain level of funding in small contributions. New York City has such a program and some Illinois lawmakers have proposals to institute them here.
- In response to Supreme Court rulings that have tossed out contribution and spending limits saying they limit free speech, some people would like to see a constitutional amendment that would allow for limits.
- The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonpartisan group in Illinois, supports many reforms including: contribution limits; timely and full disclosure of lobbying activities, public officials’ economic interests, and campaign contributions and spending; and public funding for campaigns.
- Nearly every federal office must file campaign finance reports by computer, making them quickly accessible to the public. The U.S. Senate, however, requires senators and candidates to file reports on paper. The documents are then typed into a computer, taking about six weeks to become available to the public. Some groups would like senators to file their reports electronically.