Where do Most Political Donations Come from?

Nicholas K.

Political donations come from individuals, political parties, and political action committees (PACs). Individual donors range from friends, family, and others supporting a loved one's campaign to wealthy contributors who want to exert political influence. A candidate's political party can boost electoral prospects by donating money at crucial points during a campaign. PACs are formed by unions, industry leaders, and political leaders to make donations and create advertisements for political candidates. These donors are often limited in their total political donations per election based on local, regional, and national campaign finance laws.

State and local committees can pour unlimited amounts of money into grassroots activities such as voter drives.
State and local committees can pour unlimited amounts of money into grassroots activities such as voter drives.

Depending on the law of the jurisdiction, money donated to a political campaign is documented on campaign finance reports filed during election periods. These reports outline the number of individual, party, and PAC donations given to candidates throughout their campaign. The transparency of political donations emerged in the late 20th century due to advancements in data storage. Election officials are able to publish campaign finance reports on their websites for viewing by reporters, election experts, and voters.

Political candidates in many countries are required to submit campaign finance reports during election campaigns.
Political candidates in many countries are required to submit campaign finance reports during election campaigns.

Individuals interested in a particular candidate or party might make political donations prior to Election Day. Individual donation limits vary by jurisdiction. These donations might not represent large amounts of money but candidates can gauge their support by their donor numbers. Local and regional candidates vying for party nominations often compete for the most donors in their districts as a way to establish support prior to elections.

Political parties from the local to the national level distribute funds to their candidates to strengthen electoral prospects. Party committees benefit from donations across multiple election cycles that can be distributed to cash-strapped candidates. Elected officials and party leaders within a region might coordinate political donations to candidates who are more likely to win seats from the opposing party. These donations might also be necessary for elected officials running for reelection against strong candidates.

PACs are set up by political groups and businesses to legally contribute to campaigns in the United States. These committees register with the Federal Election Commission with donation limits of $5,000 U.S. Dollars (USD) per candidate each election period. These donors represent the largest contributors to local, state, and national political candidates as of January 2011. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the top ten donors to U.S. political campaigns in 2010 were issue-oriented PACs like ActBlue ($47.8 million), business PACs like Goldman Sachs ($33.2 million) and union PACs like the Laborers Union ($30 million).

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - I don't see why it's a bad thing for a politician to be tight with money. If anything, they seem to be far too loose with it these days. We're always hearing scandals where they spend public money on their own wants.

And besides, if someone sent them a check, even for a small amount, it wouldn't be polite not to cash it. It might be an old grandmother who still thinks 25 cents is worth giving someone, and if enough of them thought that, he could make a good amount!

I think it would be more interesting to send checks on behalf of strange or hated organizations and see if they would be willing to cash those kinds of campaign donations.


@browncoat - I know in at least one case someone did something like that, although not in the way you're thinking.

Some guy on television decided he would try to show which politicians were tight with money and sent a bunch of them checks for small amounts. He started at a few dollars and if they cashed that, he sent them smaller and smaller amounts to see at which point they'd stop.

I think the smallest political contribution he managed to have someone cash was something like twenty-five cents.

I don't remember what politician it was though. I guess it's possible the poor guy just automatically cashed everything without looking at how much it was, but still, that's probably not the best way to go about things either.


I actually wonder sometimes if political donations are sometimes made to make a candidate look bad. I know before President Obama was elected there was some buzz about him having donations from pharmaceutical companies. That's the kind of association which might turn off some of his voters, and I know some political pundits tried to use the information in that way.

I don't mean specifically that that was why the companies donated money to his campaign, and I'm sure the money was probably well received.

But I can still imagine cases where campaign contributions are sent to politicians in order to make them look bad to their voters.

I guess maybe they don't have to accept it in that case.

Post your comments
Forgot password?