Subsidizing Political Campaigns

January 1, 2000

No political campaign can run without money. Without it, there are no television ads, no newspaper ads, no bumper stickers — not even leaflets. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with candidates sending letters to voters’ homes or using television advertisements to deliver their campaign messages — such activities are essential to a vital electoral process. But as long as the political campaign takes place within our market economy, these communications will cost money. 

This need for money to run our core democratic institution — elections — raises a serious question: How is our political system affected by a money chase that seems to preempt the rest of the electoral process and turn the ability to raise huge sums of money into a prerequisite for a viable candidacy, driving many potential candidates out of the political system and perhaps reshaping the loyalties of those who stay in? Three fundamental concerns drive the debates surrounding this question: (1) assuring that enough money is available to finance a broad array of political speech, while (2) preventing wealthy interests from exercising too much influence over elected officials and the political process, and (3) providing less wealthy candidates a fair opportunity to compete in the political arena.

This paper is one of a series of papers issued by the Brennan Center for Justice exploring issues of money and politics.