United States Campaign Finance Glossary
United States Campaign Finance Glossary
FAST Area Studies Website
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere, Finland



Access
The special ability of campaign contributors to meet, talk by telephone, and correspond personally with elected officials in order to "make their case" for or against a particular law, policy, regulation, appointment, etc. "Access is it. Access is power. Access is clout. That's how the thing works." -- former U. S. Rep. Romano Mazzoli (R-Ky.)

Affiliated Committees
All political committees established, financed, or controlled by the same person, group, corporation, or labor union. Under federal law, committees affiliated with one another are considered one political committee for purposes of contribution limits.

Auction-Block Elections
Elections in which campaign giving is so dominated by vested-interest contributors as to create the impression, if not the reality, that candidates are "for sale" to the highest "bidders." These large contributors expect to "buy" access, if not actual votes, in exchange for donations. "The buying and selling of political influence is a long-standing -- though shameful -- tradition in American politics. It's time to take Congress off the auction block." -- former U. S. Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.)

Best Effort
A phrase taken from Federal Election Commission regulations used by candidates' campaign committees to excuse their failure to provide the FEC with complete disclosure information concerning their contributors. For example, when only the name and address but not the employer or occupation of a contributor is given on a campaign finance form, the words "best effort" will sometimes be written in. Some states require candidates to return checks to contributors if sufficient disclosure information is not provided.

Brown-Bag Contribution
Reference to certain pre-Watergate instances of lobbyists delivering brown paper bags filled with cash to the Nixon White House.

Buckley v. Valeo
A 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the majority ruled that mandatory limits on campaign spending, candidates' spending of their own money, and independent expenditures are violations of the constitutional right to free speech and thus prohibited. The same decision upheld the constitutionality of limits on individual and committee contributions to candidates, public financing for presidential elections, and campaign contribution disclosure. The Buckley ruling applies to state and local, as well as federal, elections.

Bundling
The practice of pooling individual contributions from various people -- often those employed by the same business or in the same profession -- in order to maximize the political influence of the bundler. Typically, all of the checks collected in this way are sent or delivered to candidates on the same day. PACs and political party committees that have already given the maximum allowed by law often bundle individual contributions as a way of delivering even more money to candidates.

Campaign Spending Limit
A maximum amount that a candidate's campaign can spend during the election period. In its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that campaign spending limits constitute a violation of free speech unless voluntarily accepted, or accepted in exchange for public financing or other public resources. Voluntary campaign spending limits exist in eleven states and in primary and general elections for president.

Candidate Spending Limit
A maximum amount that a candidate can give or loan to his or her own campaign. According to the Supreme Court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, mandatory limits on candidate spending violate the Constitution's guarantee of free speech.

Cash Constituents
A politician's major campaign contributors, as distinguished from his or her ordinary constituents -- the voters. The interests of cash constituents are usually linked more to elected officials' committee assignments or political authority than to the geographic areas they represent.

Cash Cow Committee
A legislative committee, such as banking or commerce, whose members receive higher-than-average amounts of campaign contributions from the economic interests the committee oversees. "I remember when I got on Energy and Commerce, everybody jumped for the Telecommunications Subcommittee first . . . . There was a member sitting next to me, and every time another member bid for that subcommittee, he went "Ding!" -- as if a cash register was going off." -- former U. S. Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.)

Cashing In
Getting favorable treatment, often worth millions of dollars, from elected officials to whom one has given large campaign contributions. Such treatment can take the form of tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory exemptions, or other actions and non-actions (e.g., stalling) desired by the contributor. "Ninety percent (of corporate welfare), if not 100 percent of it, is a result of lobbying and campaign donations by particular companies and industries." -- Labor Secretary Robert Reich, April 1995

Ceiling
An upper limit on campaign expenditures. Sometimes also refers to the upper limit on what individuals, PACs, and political parties can contribute.

Challenger
The candidate trying to unseat the person in office, or incumbent.

Christmas Tree Bill
A piece of legislation that includes an assortment of special provisions -- e.g., tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory exemptions -- often incorporated in the bill for the benefit of lawmakers' campaign contributors. One such provision, contained in the 1986 Tax Reform Act, granted a tax exemption to a single company (Phillips Petroleum) identified only as a "corporation incorporated on June 13, 1917, which has its principal place of business in Bartlesville, Oklahoma."

Clean Resources
Government funding and other campaign assets, such as media vouchers and free postage, that come from the public as a whole rather than from private interests.

Compliance Funds
Money raised by major-party presidential nominees that is used for legal and accounting expenses incurred in the process of satisfying the reporting and other requirements of federal campaign finance laws. Used by candidates as a way of getting around the prohibition on fundraising during the presidential general election.

Conduit
A person, group, or organization that forwards others' contributions to candidates, a legal activity under federal law. Such contributions always count against the federal contribution limit for the donors, and sometimes against the limit for the conduit as well (in cases in which the conduit exercises "direction and control").

Conflict of Interest
The situation that results when an umpire takes money from the players, when a judge takes money from defendants and prosecutors, and when government officials take campaign contributions from people whose economic interests are affected by government policy-making. "We are the only people in the world required by law to take large amounts of money from strangers and then act as if it has no effect on our behavior." -- U. S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

Contribution Limit
A maximum amount of money that an individual, PAC, or political party may contribute to a candidate's campaign committee, to a PAC, or to a political party. The federal government and most states impose some kind of limits on contributions from individuals and PACs.

Contribution
Money, or anything else of value (such as mailing lists, telephones, billboard space) given to a candidate's campaign committee, political party, or political action committee (PAC) by an individual or organization.

Coordinated Expenditure
In federal elections, money spent by political parties on behalf of their presidential and congressional candidates in the general election. Such expenditures are limited by law, and are not direct payments to candidates but payments by the parties to cover candidates' campaign costs.

Corruption Cost
The billions of dollars that taxpayers annually pay for unnecessary tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory exemptions, etc. that can be at least partially, if not entirely, attributed to lawmakers' desire to gain or retain the support of big-money campaign contributors. When calculating what our current system of privately financed elections costs (and what a system of publicly financed elections would cost), the corruption cost must be factored in. "On the tax side, the subsidy side, and the expenditure side, decisions are clearly weighted and influenced . . . by who has contributed to the candidates. The price that the public pays for this process...is quite high." -- former U.S. Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.)

DCCC
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Run by Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives for the purpose of raising money to support Democratic candidates for the House, the DCCC raised $19.4 million during the 1993-1994 election cycle.

Debt Retirement
The practice of raising additional campaign funds after the election is over in order to pay off the candidate's campaign debt.

Democratically Financed Elections
An electoral system in which candidates' campaigns are funded with resources that come from the people as a whole, rather than an elite few. Also, a specific legislative proposal under which eligible candidates who pledge not to accept or spend any private money whatsoever during the primary and general election periods would receive equal amounts of full public financing with which to conduct their campaigns. A variation on this proposal is likely to become a statewide ballot initiative in Maine in 1996. Other variations have been introduced in, though not passed by, five state legislatures and the city council of New York City.

Dialing for Dollars
Making phone calls to potential big-money donors. A time-consuming -- and, in the period preceding an election, a daily -- task undertaken by the candidates themselves as well as their key fundraisers. "I have to call people and ask them for money. Then I have to call them and ask them again. Then I have to call them one more time." -- former U. S. Rep. Jim Bacchus (D-Fla.) .

Disclosure
The requirement that candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs) report the amounts and sources of their campaign contributions. Federal candidates must list each contributor's name, address, employer, and occupation. As of 1994, 23 states did not require disclosure of employer and occupation.

DNC
Democratic National Committee. The leadership, administrative, and fundraising arm of the national Democratic Party. Raises money, including "soft money," for party activities.

Dollar Politics
A political process based more on money than votes. "If the founding fathers had wanted American democracy to use dollar bills as ballots, they would have placed cash registers where ballot boxes now stand. -- Amitai Etzioni, author of Capital Corruption.

Double Giving
The practice of making campaign contributions to both (or all) candidates or parties during an election, as a way of "hedging one's bets" and having access to whomever wins. Many industrial giants -- including Archer-Daniels-Midland, RJR Nabisco, Atlantic Richfield Co., Philip Morris, and Joseph E. Seagram & Sons -- gave over $100,000 to both major parties in the 1992 election cycle.

DSCC
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Run by Democratic members of the U.S. Senate for the purpose of raising money to support Democratic candidates for the Senate, the DSCC raised $26.4 million during the 1993-1994 election cycle.

Earmarking
Occurs when a contributor writes a check to, for example, the Democratic National Committee in response to a solicitation and designates through a notation on the check the name of a candidate for whom the contribution is intended. In this case, the DNC acts as a "conduit" and must identity the contribution and the contributor in federal disclosure reports.

Eggs McBentsen
A reference to the monthly breakfasts for lobbyists initiated by U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen when he became chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, as a way to raise funds for his re-election campaign. A ticket to attend cost $10,000, the maximum PAC contribution allowed per election cycle. "Political business long has been lubricated by money, and that process probably will not change much on its own -- not even for Bentsen, despite his move to shut down the "Eggs McBentsen" show." -- National Journal, February 21, 1987

Election Cycle
The period that extends from the day after the previous general election to the day of the next general election. The election cycles for a U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the President are two years, six years, and four years, respectively.

Equal Protection
Refers to the "Equal Protection" clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The guarantee of "equal protection of the law" has been evoked to challenge the constitutionality of today's system of privately financed elections. It is alleged that under such a system citizens without access to wealth are denied their right to equal political opportunity.

Express Advocacy
Paying for political advertisements and other mass communications that benefit particular candidates, a practice that is regulated by federal and state election law. Groups and individuals who pay for such communications sometimes claim that they were engaged not in "express advocacy" but rather "issue advocacy," a constitutionally protected exercise of free speech and, therefore, not subject to contribution limits. The distinction between the two forms of advocacy is often not clear.

Fat Cat
A wealthy individual who makes large campaign contributions. Also, a member of a guerrilla theater troupe which stages actions outside political fundraisers; the actors dress like corpulent felines smoking cigars and passing out bundles of cash to politicians on behalf of vested interests.

Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)
Congressional legislation enacted in 1971 and amended in 1974, 1976, and 1979. FECA incorporates all federal law pertaining to federal elections. Limits individual contributions to $1,000 per election to a federal candidate; $5,000 to a PAC per calendar year; $20,000 to a national party per calendar year; and an aggregate of $25,000 per year to all federal candidates, PACs, and national parties. Also limits PAC contributions to federal candidates to $5,000 per election.

Federal Election Commission (FEC)
The U.S. government's monitoring and enforcement agency for federal elections. Created in 1974, the FEC consists of six commissioners who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate and serve six-year terms. By law, no more than three commissioners may be of the same political party.

Financially Competitive
An unofficial but important term used by election-watchers to refer to a candidate who has at least half as much campaign money as her or his competitor.

Fingerprinting
The process of identifying contributors by determining their addresses, occupations, employers, economic interests, political and ideological affiliations, and spouses and children who may have contributed.

Floor
A minimum or set amount of public financing or other public resources (e.g., free media or postage) available to all eligible candidates.

Follow the Money
Originally, the phrase is said to have been used by "Deep Throat" to tell reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein how to find out who was behind the 1972 Watergate break-in. Now, an expression indicating that one needs to look at the sources of elected officials' campaign contributions in order to understand how and in whose interests public policy is made. "Follow the money and you will find yourself opening a window on this hidden game [of cash constituents looking for legislative favors] -- a window that deserves to be pulled wide open for everyone to see." -- Larry Makinson, Follow the Money Handbook

Franking Privilege
Free postage for official, non-campaign-related correspondence conducted by federal office-holders. Used most heavily during election years and thus considered an in-kind public subsidy to incumbents that augments their financial advantage over challengers. In 1995, each U.S. Representative was entitled to use up to $150,000 per election cycle for franking purposes. Allotment varies according to the number of mail households in a district. The average allotment for FY 1995 is $108,000.

Full Public Financing
An arrangement under which all of the campaign funds used by candidates come from the government and none comes from private sources.

General Election
The election that follows political parties' selection of their nominees (via caucus, convention, or primary election).

Golden Rolodex
A list, or "Rolodex," of the names and addresses of people who can be called upon to make major campaign contributions -- a fundraiser's most valuable asset. "The candidate [only] sees the person who raised the $10,000, the person with the "Golden Rolodex" of campaign check-writers, and is quite grateful. -- Investigator for the California Fair Political Practices Commission

Golden Rule
An ancient principle with a modern-day twist, meaning that the those who have the gold, rule. Or, the candidates who receive the most campaign money usually get elected, and the interests who supply the most campaign money usually get favorable legislation. Term coined by Thomas Ferguson, author of Golden Rule: the Investment Theory of Parties and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems.

Gucci Gulch
The Capitol corridors where well-paid lobbyists wearing fancy, Italian-styled, Gucci shoes, mingle with members of Congress. Term from the book Showdown at Gucci Gulch -- Lawmakers, Lobbyists, and the Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform, by Jeffrey Birnbaum and Allen Murray.

Hard Money
Federally-regulated campaign contributions and other moneys spent for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a federal election.

Homemaker
Occupation often listed on campaign finance reports for wives of major contributors who give through their spouses (and other family members) as a legal way of getting around individual contribution limits.

Honest Graft
The overt, unabashed (and legal) taking of money, in the form of campaign contributions, from groups and individuals who expect and usually get privileged access and, often, various kinds of legislative and regulatory favors. "I've made a big fortune out of the game and I'm gettin' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft .... There's honest graft and I'm an example of how it works." -- George Washington Plunkett, Tammany Hall boss, circa 1905

Honorarium
A fee for giving a speech or making a public appearance. Members of the executive branch of the federal government are prohibited from receiving honoraria, as are members of the U.S. House (since 1989) and U.S. Senate (since 1991), although they may designate a charity to which an honorarium, of up to $2,000 per speech, may be sent.

Ideological Contributor
A classification used by campaign finance analysts to denote a person or group who makes a political donation in support of a particular philosophy (e.g., libertarianism) or issue (environmental protection) -- as opposed to business contributors and labor contributors.

Ideological PAC
A term used by campaign finance analysts, not one defined by law, referring to a PAC organized around an idea, philosophy, issue, or political party -- as opposed to a business or labor PAC.

In-Kind Contribution
A contribution of goods, services, or property offered free or at less than the usual charge.

In-State (In-District) Contribution
Money donated to a candidate's campaign committee by an individual residing in the state (or district) in which the election is being held.

Incumbent
Person holding an elected office. Usually refers to an elected official running for re-election.

Independent Expenditure
An expenditure of money for advertisements or other communications which expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, which is not made in conjunction or coordination with any candidate or candidate's campaign committee. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that independent expenditures constitute free speech and cannot be limited by law.

Individual Contribution
Money contributed to a candidate's campaign committee, a PAC, or a political party by a single person (or more than one person on a single check), as opposed to a committee, or PAC, contribution.

Interested Money
Campaign contributions from individuals and groups that have a vested interest (usually economic) in a particular legislative or regulatory matter. "If you're on [the House] Ways and Means [Committee] . . . anytime you want you can have a cozy little lunch downtown and tell them [the lobbyists] it's going to cost $1,000, or whatever it is, and the special interests will flock -- flock -- to your luncheon." -- former U. S. Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.)

Investment
Making a campaign contribution to an elected official apparently with the hope of realizing a substantial return. For example, during 1991-1992, the multinational conglomerate Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) and affiliates gave $1.1 million in soft money contributions to Republican Party committees and $267,500 to Democrats. ADM received a waiver of an EPA ruling in the waning days of the Bush administration that encouraged ethanol sales, earning millions of dollars for Andreas and ADM. "[Special interests] are good business people. They're not going to throw money down the drain. So they see this as an investment." -- former U. S. Rep. Tim Valentine (D-N.C.)

Issue Advocacy
A constitutionally-protected form of free speech to which contribution limits do not apply, involving the use of political advertisements and other mass communications that promote a position regarding a political issue, such as military spending or welfare reform. Groups and individuals who pay for such communications have sometimes been charged with "express advocacy" -- that is, with advocacy that benefits particular candidates, a practice which is regulated by federal and state election law. The distinction between these two forms of advocacy is often not clear.

Joint Fundraiser
A fundraising event sponsored by more than one candidate committee, PAC, or party committee.

Leadership PAC
A PAC run by one or more elected officials. Contributions to leadership PACs are not treated as contributions to the elected officials and therefore do not count against limits on giving to those officials.

Legalized Bribe
A campaign contribution from a donor who clearly expects favorable treatment from an elected official. "The distinction between a campaign contribution and a bribe is a hairline's difference." -- former U. S. Sen. Russell Long (D-La.)

Legislative Favor
Something a legislator does to benefit his or her campaign contributors. "The pay-off may be as obvious and overt as a floor vote in favor of the contributor's desired tax loophole or appropriation. Or it may be subtle . . . a floor speech not delivered . . . a bill pigeon-holed in subcommittee . . . an amendment not offered . . . . Or the pay-off can come in a private conversation with four or five key colleagues in the privacy of the cloak room." -- former U. S. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.)

Level Playing Field
An electoral contest in which competing candidates have equal resources with which to conduct their campaigns.

Lobbyist
A person who tries to influence elected officials to take action, or non-action, favorable to his or her interests, beliefs, or clients. Black's Law Dictionary defines a lobbyist as "One who makes it a business to procure the passage of bills pending before a legislative body." The General Accounting Office found that fewer than 4,000 of the 13,500 individuals and organizations listed in Washington Representatives were actually registered under the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act.

Loophole
A way of avoiding or getting around the law, usually associated with an omission or ambiguity in the law itself.

Lowest Unit Rate
The cheapest prices for a radio or TV advertisements that broadcasters offer to their regular customers. Under various federal campaign finance reform proposals, broadcasters would have to offer the same prices, or rates, to federal candidates and their campaign committees.

Matching Funds
Public money given in a specific ratio (eg., 1:1, 2:1, or 3:1) to candidates who succeed in raising prescribed amounts of private money in individual contributions of a certain size. During presidential primaries, for example, the federal government will match up to $250 of an individual's total contributions to eligible presidential candidates. Also a provision in Democratically Financed Elections proposal whereby candidates who choose public financing option get additional money if independent expenditures are made against them or if privately financed opponents spend more than the public financing amount.

Maxing Out
Making campaign contributions to candidates, PACs, and parties up to the limit allowed by law. Federal election law, for example, allows individuals to give a maximum of $1,000 per candidate per election (primaries and run-offs are counted as separate elections); $5,000 to a PAC per calendar year; $20,000 to a national political party per calendar year; and a total of $25,000 to candidates, PACs, and parties per calendar year. Major donors who max out often turn to soft-money giving. "Let's say I know I need to raise X amount of money for my campaign. So I say: "Okay, what are the PACs I can hope to max out?" And you hope they'll decide to max out with you." -- former U. S. Rep. Jolene Unsoeld (D-Wash.)

Millionaire Loophole
The absence of any limits, in federal, state, or local campaign finance laws, on the amount wealthy candidates can contribute to their own campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling forbids this kind of limitation as an abridgment of free speech. "Given the vast sums of money required to run for office, increasing numbers of very wealthy people are going into electoral politics -- and winning." -- Jamin Raskin and John Bonifaz, The Wealth Primary: Campaign Fundraising and the Constitution

Money Chase
Candidates' perpetual pursuit of campaign contributions. The endless fundraising circuit, from cocktail party to executive suite to hotel ballroom to union hall, and then back to the telephone. "While I might be able to gather as much as $10 million, I would have to spend more time in the living rooms of the wealthy raising money than I could out in the communities raising issues, raising hopes and raising hell." -- former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower explaining why he chose not to run for the U.S. Senate in 1990

Money Laundering
Making a campaign contribution to an elected official (or to a campaign committee, PAC, or political party) through one or more third parties -- as a device for disguising the source of a contribution and getting around contribution limits. For example, during 1989-1991, the Evergreen America Corp. funneled illegal campaign contributions totaling $172,000 to local and state officials in California in the form of $500 checks from dozens of Evergreen employees, friends, and relatives whom the corporation had secretly reimbursed.

Money Trail
The flow of private dollars from particular vested interests into the campaign coffers, leadership PACs, foundations, and favorite causes of particular elected officials, or groups of elected officials (such as those who sit on a particular committee).

Mother's Milk
A term coined by Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California Assembly from 1961 to 1968. "Money is the mother's milk of politics." -- Jesse Unruh

Multi-Candidate Committee
The FEC's designation for a PAC or other political committee that has made contributions to at least five federal candidates.

Non-Connected Committee
The FEC's designation for a free-standing PAC -- such as EMILY's List -- that has no sponsoring or parent organization.

Non-Party Committee
FEC term for any political committee not operated by a political party. The term makes no distinction between PACs and other non-party committees (e.g., candidate committees) even though almost all the "non-party committee" contributions listed on federal candidates' campaign reports are from PACs. This ambiguity can cause problems when analyzing the reports.

NRCC
National Republican Congressional Committee. Run by Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives for the purpose of raising money to support Republican candidates for the House. The NRCC raised $26.7 million during the 1993-1994 election cycle.

NRSC
National Republican Senatorial Committee. Run by Republican members of the U.S. Senate for the purpose of raising money to support Republican candidates for the Senate. The NRSC raised $65.4 million during the 1993-1994 election cycle.

Open Secrets
A reference to the information contained in campaign disclosure reports regarding the sources of candidates' contributions. From the flagship publication of the Center for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets. The four-volume series offers an analysis of campaign contributions to federal candidates according to economic and legislative interests.

Open-Seat Election
An election in which no incumbent is running.

Out-of-State (Out-of-District) Contribution
Money donated to a candidate's campaign committee by an individual residing outside the state (or district) in which the election is being held. Voters in Virginia, Kentucky, and Alaska have launched court challenges to the constitutionality of out-of-state contributions, and voters in Oregon banned both out-of-state and out-of-district contributions via a 1994 ballot initiative that has also been challenged in court. As of October 1995, these cases were still pending

Partial Public Financing
An arrangement under which a portion of the campaign funds used by candidates comes from the government, usually in the form of a grant that matches private money raised. Twenty-three states provide partial public financing to candidates, either directly or via political parties. The federal government provides partial public financing to candidates in presidential primaries.

Pay to Play
A reference to the character of the American political process: in order to be assured of access and influence with elected officials, a person or group has to make significant contributions to those officials' re-election campaigns. "[If we didn't make PAC contributions] I wouldn't have the access . . . I wouldn't know Governor X to the degree that we know the governor and his staff; we wouldn't know Bob Y, the local congressman, as well as we know him; and we wouldn't know the junior senator as well." -- PAC director quoted in Money Talks by Dan Clawson.

Payoff
The return on a campaign investment made by a vested-interest contributor
e.g., special appointments (such as ambassadorships), tax breaks, subsidies, regulatory exemptions, committee action to approve or block particular legislation. "[I]t's not as if it's a specific payoff, like you get a bag of money one night for voting a particular way. It's much harder to describe, and I think in many ways it's much more insidious." -- former U. S. Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.)

Permanent Campaign
The common practice of continuous fundraising throughout one's term in office in order to have as much money on hand as possible for the next election, thus discouraging prospective challengers. "Someone like me, in a very marginal seat, begins thinking about re-election a day or so after he is sworn in for a new term -- if he wants to get re-elected." -- former U. S. Rep. Jim Bacchus (D-Fla.)

Personal Use
Expenditure of campaign funds for such things as the candidate's wardrobe, family vacations, or mortgage payments.

Plutocracy
The wealthy elite who dominate American politics by virtue of public officials' dependence on their campaign contributions, or by virtue of their ability to use their money to win major public office themselves. As campaigns become more expensive, more millionaires are becoming candidates and getting elected. In 1992, 71 of 435 U.S. Representatives (16 percent) and 26 of 100 U.S. Senators (26 percent) were millionaires. Fewer than one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population are millionaires.

Pockets of a Politician's Coat
An expression coined by Kent Cooper of the Federal Election Commission that refers to the various accounts for which politicians can solicit funds from contributors who may want to gain access and influence. Examples include politicians' re-election committees, "soft money" accounts for contributions to state and local parties, their favorite charities, their "leadership" PACs, non-profit foundations they head, their legal defense funds, and politicians' own "pockets" for receiving personal loans, all-expenses-paid family vacations, the free use of cars, planes, accommodations, etc.

Political Action Committee (PAC)
A popular term for a political committee that is not a candidate's campaign committee or a party committee, and that is organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates. Most PACs represent business, labor, or ideological interests.

Political Foundation
A non-profit, tax-exempt organization set up by or on behalf of an elected official for the stated purpose of conducting public education. In practice, such foundations are often used to advance the political careers of particular politicians; because such foundations can accept gifts of any size, moneyed interests use them to curry favor with politicians without the constraint of campaign contribution limits.

Price of Admission
The amount of money it takes to be elected to a major public office. For example, during the 1994 congressional elections, the average winner spent $516,000, and those challengers who spent less than $150,000 lost 100 percent of the time.

Primary
An intra-party election for the purpose of determining the party's nominee in the general election.

Principal Campaign Committee
The FEC's designation for the main (or only) committee authorized by the candidate to raise and expend funds to promote his or her election or re-election. Usually called the "Committee to (Re-) Elect Pat Smith."

Public Financing
Campaign money supplied by the government to eligible candidates. The federal government provides presidential candidates with matching public funds in the primary and full public financing in the general election. Twenty-three states provide partial public financing to candidates for various state offices and/or to political parties.

Qualifying Contribution
A very small campaign contribution (e.g., five dollars) to a candidate which the candidate uses to demonstrate public support and thus become eligible for public financing, as in Democratically Financed Elections proposal. See "Democratically Financed Elections"

Quid Pro Quo
From the Latin, "something for something." What vested-interest campaign contributors get from elected officials in return for their financial backing (this may include a tax break, subsidy, appointment, or regulatory exemption). "[Some members] take these $500 or $5,000 contributions and then put $20 million in some bill for the corporation." -- former U. S. Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D-Pa.)

Rainmaker
A person who raises large sums of money on behalf of a candidate for public office. "[E]very presidential candidate has recruited one or more rainmakers, mostly men -- real estate developers, bankers, doctors, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies . . . [T]heir success or failure can make or break a presidential candidacy." -- Newhouse News Service, April 23, 1995

RNC
Republican National Committee. The leadership, administrative, and fundraising arm of the national Republican Party. Raises money, including "soft money," for party activities.

Run-Off
A final, elimination election used to determine the winner among the highest vote-getters in the previous, just-held election.

Salting
A practice permitted by the FEC whereby candidates are allowed to "salt" their contributor lists with up to ten pseudonyms accompanied by real addresses, as a way of catching anyone who might use their lists to solicit money, which is prohibited by federal law.

Seed Money
Limited-size contributions given prior to the primary campaign period to prospective candidates who are in the process of raising qualifying contributions or exploring the feasibility of running for office.

Separate Segregated Fund
The FEC's designation for a PAC established by a corporation or labor organization.

Sewer Money
A term coined by The New York Times that refers to soft money.

Soft Money
Political money raised by national and state parties that is not regulated by federal campaign finance law because, in theory, it is for generic "party building" activities such as getting out the vote. In practice, it is often used to benefit specific federal candidates, and thus it has become a major vehicle for skirting the limitations and restrictions of federal law. In 1992, the national parties raised $83 million in soft money and an estimated $205 million more was raised by state parties. Much of this money came in contributions of $50,000 and $100,000.

Solicitation
A request for a campaign contribution.

Stealth Campaign
The "invisible" campaign that the public doesn't see in which candidates are quietly soliciting campaign contributions from, and often making implicit commitments to, wealthy donors. Also known as the "phantom campaign."

Surplus Funds
Campaign money left over after the election and the payment of all of the campaign's outstanding bills and debts.

Targeting
The practice by major campaign contributors of channeling donations to legislators and other elected officials best situated to further the contributors' agendas. For example, six of the top 10 U. S. House recipients of agribusiness contributions in 1994 sat on the House Agriculture Committee, and all of the top 10 U. S. House and U. S. Senate recipients of contributions from military contractors sat on committees dealing with military spending.

Tax Add-On
A provision in eleven states' tax laws that allows state taxpayers to add one or more additional dollars to their annual income tax bill in order to pay for the partial public financing of designated state elections. A voluntary tax surcharge.

Tax Check-Off
A provision in federal and thirteen states' tax laws that allows taxpayers to earmark their income-tax dollars to pay for partial public financing of designated elections. Federal income-tax forms include a voluntary $3 check-off for the presidential public financing fund.

Tax Credits
A form of indirect public financing used in Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., meant to encourage small individual campaign contributions and, in some cases, compliance with voluntary spending limits. For example, Oregon offers a tax credit, in the form a refund, of up to $50 for contributions made to political parties, groups supporting or opposing ballot measures, and candidates who comply with voluntary spending limits.

Tax Deductions
A form of indirect public financing used in Arizona, California, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Oklahoma as a way of encouraging small individual contributions. For example, Oklahoma offers tax deductions of up to $100 for contributions to candidates and political parties. From 1971 until 1986, when it was repealed, a similar provision was part of federal income-tax law.

Testing the Waters
Exploring the feasibility of becoming a candidate for a particular office. Money is often raised to pay for activities related to testing the waters -- such as travel, telephone, and polling costs -- and prospective candidates sometimes create testing-the-waters, or exploratory, committees for that purpose.

Time Limits
State-imposed restrictions on the period of time during which candidates for state office may accept campaign contributions. For example, 21 states prohibit elected state officials from accepting contributions during legislative sessions, from any source or just from lobbyists. Alabama prohibits funds from being raised more than twelve months before an election.

Tin-Cupping
Begging for money by holding out the proverbial tin cup, a task that many elected officials call demeaning and say they are forced to undertake in order to remain competitive at election time. In recognition of this phenomenon, Orange County, California passed a campaign finance measure during the early 1990s called the "Tin Cup Ordinance," from the acronym "T.I.N.C.U.P. -- the Time Is Now to Clean Up Politics." "I was told . . . you are going to have to raise about $8,000 a day . . . So I have to travel throughout the United States like a person with a tin cup." -- U. S. Sen. John Breaux (D-La.)

Tip of the Iceberg
That part of the money trail that is readily obvious from campaign disclosure reports. The unseen portion -- e.g., contributions from sources whose interests are hard to identify, contributions made through third parties, and contributions to entities favored by politicians but not officially connected to their re-election campaigns -- usually requires investigative research Variable Contribution Limits -- A provision in Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island's election law that allows candidates who comply with voluntary campaign spending limits to accept contributions in larger amounts than non-complying candidates are allowed to accept.

Vested Interest
A person or group that has an economic or ideological stake in the legislative and regulatory actions of government. Sometimes called a "special interest," "economic interest," or "moneyed interest." "Think of the [congressional] committee and you can think of the interest group or the company that will have an interest." -- former U. S. Rep. Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio)

Viability
Usually a reference to the amount of money candidates have or can raise for their campaigns. Viable (or, sometimes, "credible") candidates are those considered to have enough money to win.

Vouchers
A proposed form of in-kind public financing by which eligible candidates and/or political parties would receive certificates entitling them to a specified amount of free campaign resources, such as postage or media time. Under another kind of voucher system, currently being explored in Wisconsin, registered voters would receive government-issued scrip which they could contribute to candidates of their choice who, in turn, could redeem it for campaign funds.

War Chest
Campaign money built up by incumbents well in advance of the next election in order to give them a financial head start and discourage potential challengers. Often includes leftover campaign money from the last election, as well as money raised early in the term. After the 1994 elections, three victorious U. S. Senate candidates (Kay Bailey Hutchison [R-Texas], Joseph Lieberman [D-Conn.], and Connie Mack [R-Fla.]) had over $1 million on hand for the next race -- six years away. In the U. S. House, 10 newly-elected representatives had a $600,000-plus war chest; three -- David Drier (R-Calif.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) -- surpassed the million dollar mark with $2.3 million, $2.2 million, and $1.3 million, respectively.

Watergate Reforms
A reference to the 1974, 1976, and 1979 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Motivated largely by the excesses and illegalities of President Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign, these amendments comprise the bulk of federal campaign law today.

Wealth Primary
An unofficial but integral (and usually decisive) part of the electoral process leading up to most primary and general elections for major public office, in which individuals and groups capable of making large campaign contributions effectively decide which candidates will have the financial wherewithal to mount winning campaigns and thus go on to govern. An exclusionary procedure in which only those with money or access to money can "vote," wealth primaries have been likened to Texas' racially exclusionary "white primaries" of the post-World War I era, which were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.



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Last Updated 25 April 2010