Oct. 19, 2015
Murray resident Dr. Richard Blalock spends his days practicing internal medicine at Primary Care Medical Center and following Racer athletics as Murray State’s team physician. But outside his practice, Blalock is an active political contributor, donating his money to the people and committees he believes in.
While voting is seen as the primary method of constituency participation in the United States, anytime a citizen takes the time to try to affect public policy, they become an active participant. Campaign contributions give candidates greater opportunity to make their message heard, increasing their chance of winning and thus influencing public policy—the same concept as voting, professor of political science at Murray State, Drew Seib says.
However, individual contributions to candidate committees made by citizens like Blalock typically make up a small percentage of the money that takes candidates all the way to Election Day.
Super PACs are capable of dominating political contributions, creating some discord amongst voters, studies suggest. In a study titled “The Political Ecology of Opinion in Big-Donor Neighborhoods,” researchers concluded, “Most candidates turn to a highly unrepresentative elite for their campaign funds.”
Funding from such a small portion of the population cannot be assumed to provide an accurate depiction of political opinion across the masses.
Data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows contribution sources vary greatly by candidate. For example, 48.3 percent of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign funds raised so far come from small individual contributions, $200 or less, whose donors are not required to file with the FEC (unitemized) while Hillary Clinton’s make up only 17.2 percent. Former presidential candidate Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s unitemized individual contributions supply 47.6 percent of his funding, similar to fellow Republican Trump.
“One of the big motivators [to getting involved in the political process] is just feeling like you can make a big difference,” Seib said. “I think a lot of times there is a disconnect between ourselves and the candidates and the candidates seem to be kind of distanced from us.”
Contributions made by voters provide an opportunity to shorten that distance.
During the 2008 presidential election, then-Sen. Barack Obama took his campaign to social media, emphasizing the importance of these small donations. Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking a similar approach in the 2016 race, utilizing social media and disassociating himself with Super PACs. According to the FEC, unitemized individual contributions currently make up about 74 percent of Sanders’ funds.
Stricter contribution limits may help to create a more balanced political atmosphere. FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel said in a tweet, although she is “not wedded to the current limits,” they do work to ensure that candidates must appeal to all voters, not only the wealthy.
|An individual may contribute to …|
|Federal Candidates||$2,700||per election|
|National party committees — main account||$33,400||per year|
|National party committees — convention account (RNC and DNC only)||$100,200||per year|
|National party committees — party building account||$100,200||per year|
|National party committees — legal fund account||$100,200||per year|
|State or local party committees’ federal accounts||$10,000||per year|
|Federal PACs||$5,000||per year|
Provided by InsidePoliticalLaw.com
PACs and Super PACS
Political Action Committees (PACs) are organized with the purpose of raising and spending money in order to elect or defeat a political candidate. Some PACs act similar to lobbyists, associating with a particular business, service or ideology, according to OpenSecrets.org.
They consist of many like-minded individuals so their contribution limits are much higher to account for this. According to the Inside Political Law website, PACs may give $5,000 to a candidate committee per election and may receive up to $5,000 per year from an individual (as shown above).
Super PACs were created in result of a lawsuit between the FEC and SpeechNow.org and are officially called “independent expenditure-only committees,” the FEC website says.
Super PACs run in accordance with previous Supreme Court rulings involving Citizens United, which determined money and the way U.S. citizens choose to spend money are forms of speech protected by the First Amendment.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the current top 10 Super PACs with the most money raised are conservative. Nine of the 10 are known to support specific candidates, but each has a name that does not explicitly state an individual that it supports.
Campaign contributions have sparked debate and concern in cases of corruption, representation and the power of anonymity. But this is not meant to deter voters—quite the opposite.
Even small contributions are important to help candidates get their message out. Without individual contributions, the candidates would not have the chance to be heard and constituents could become too lost in the politics to vote at all, Seib said.