When you complete your federal income tax return, you will see a question that asks you whether you are willing to contribute $3.00 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. This voluntary contribution provides for the public funding of presidential election campaigns in the United States. In this article, you will find a comprehensive guide to the most important things to know about the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.
History of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund
In 1966, congress passed the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act. The law was the start of the public funding of presidential election campaigns in the United States. It created the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Starting the following tax year, individual taxpayers were able to designate $1.00 to contribute towards the public funding of presidential campaigns. Soon after, the maximum amount of the voluntary contribution was raised to $3.00 per taxpayer.
Millions of taxpayers contribute, but participation is waning
Participation has slowly waned since the creation of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) published detailed data on how much money taxpayers are contributing to the fund. Still, millions of U.S. taxpayers voluntarily opt to give to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund each year. Here is an overview of participation rates over time:
- 1977: 6 percent of taxpayers contributed to the fund.
- 1987: 0 percent of taxpayers contributed to the fund.
- 1997: 0 percent of taxpayers contributed to the fund.
- 2007: 3 percent of taxpayers contributed to the fund.
- 2017: 4 percent of taxpayers contributed to the fund.
- 2021: 34 percent of taxpayers contributed to the fund.
The trend is crystal clear: There has been a sharp drop-off in the percentage of Americans who are voluntarily contributing to the public funding of presidential elections. At the same time, a greater percentage of people are contributing directly to their preferred candidates. Many experts believe a combination of apathy and increased partisanship is driving the decline in participation.
The Fund Is Still Healthy: Despite the sharp drop in the number of taxpayers who are willing to contribute, the Presidential Election Campaign Fund is still in a strong financial position. The FEC reports that the balance of the fund as of May 2022 is $422,635,205—the highest that it has ever been in the program’s history.
How the Money Is Used: Primary Matching Funds and General Election Matching Funds
For candidates running for the highest office of the land, there is no doubt that funding matters. In the modern political environment, running a campaign for President of the United States is incredibly expensive—and it has been getting even more costly over time. According to data provided by Open Secrets, the Biden campaign of 2020 became the first to raise more than $1 billion from donors.
The ability to raise money and get attention early on in the primary is a key part of launching a presidential campaign. The Presidential Campaign Election Fund provides a path for both primary matching funds and general election matching funds. Here is what you should know:
- Primary Election Matching Funds: Candidates seeking nomination from a political party to the presidency have a right to apply for primary matching funds. To qualify to receive primary matching funds, a presidential candidate must first demonstrate broad public support. They must raise at least $5,000 in contributions from donors in a minimum of 20 different U.S. states—meaning the absolute minimum raise to apply for primary matching funds is $100,000. Notably, only $250 per contributor is counted for this purpose. Once a candidate is qualified, they can receive matching funds for the primary through the Presidential Campaign Election Fund. However, in doing so, they must put some voluntary limits on their spending. For the 2020 Presidential Election, the maximum primary spending for a candidate that took matching funds was $51,850,800. The FEC notes that there are spending limits for each state.
- General Election Matching Funds: A candidate that is nominated by a party in a presidential election can also opt to take general election matching funds. For the major parties (Democratic and Republican), the same rule applies for the primary election, matching funds are only available if candidates agree to limit their spending. The FEC reports that the maximum spending for the general election for a major party candidate for president that accepted matching funds was $103,701,600 in 2020. Minor party candidates may also qualify for general election matching funds. However, their party must have received between 5 and 25 percent of the vote of the total popular vote in the previous election.
Fundraising Is Vital in a Successful Presidential Campaign
The reality is that the United States largely uses a private funding system for politics. The Presidential Election Campaign Fund provides a path for partial public funding. Though, not all candidates will opt-in to matching public funds given the restrictions on spending. Further, primary and general elections candidates that do utilize the Presidential Election Campaign Fund must still be able to solicit contributions on their own. First, a candidate needs a broad base of donors across states to qualify. Second, the Presidential Election Campaign Fund provides matching funds. Aristotle helps campaigns get the most out of their donors. With tools like Donor Insight and a Political Donor Database Analysis, Aristotle Campaign Manager can make a difference.
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