Notes from UndergroundIn the United States, political candidates are nominated and fielded by political parties. The system is dominated by the Democratic and Republican Parties. It is known as the "two-party" system and these two parties have prevailed in every presidential election since 1852, when the Whig Party ran it's last presidential candidate, General Winfield Scott.
The two parties undergo a complex selection process to nominate their candidates. This process is primarily driven by fund raising efforts and appeals to well-heeled donors, corporations, and committees. It is also accompanied by considerable public relations efforts, primarily using political advertisements, content-less debates, primary elections, and other elaborate political artifice.
Because the elections in the United States are winner-take-all affairs, once a candidate wins office, they can largely ignore the party platform and promises made to the voting public during the election campaign. However, any successful political office holder will never ignore the promises made to the donor base. Not if he wants future donations. And in American politics, another election is always right around the corner.
There are independent and third parties candidates in U.S. elections. Generally speaking they go nowhere and have little, if any, political traction during the election cycle. The mainstream media, owned by five giant corporations, dutifully ignores them, or in some cases, demonizes them if they appear to gain any mass popularity. Accordingly, the vast majority of voters know nothing of them, or at best believe them to be kooks or charlatans.
Financing and its DiscontentsFor federal elections in the United States, financing is critical to run a successful candidacy for public office. Candidates form campaign committees to fund their candidacy. Political parties form party committees to help finance a slate of candidates. Private entities, such as corporations, unions, political organizations, etc. form Political Action Committees (PACs) to raise and distribute private funds to political candidates.
Money contributed to political candidates is generally categorized as being either "hard" or "soft" money. Both hard and soft money is raised from individuals and organizations, however hard money goes directly to a candidate's campaign, while soft money indirectly finances a candidate's campaign activities. Examples of soft money is an organization producing and airing a series of television advertisements on behalf of a candidate.
Funding of political campaigns has always been controversial and contentious in American politics. The first campaign finance laws were passed in the 1867 and current modern finance reform was initiated in 1971 with the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act. Committees are registered and regulated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) from which we draw the data used in this website.
A Chicken in Every PotOnce upon a time in American politics, candidates for office, both national and local, downplayed the amount of money raised from fat cat donors, giant multinational corporations, and other well-heeled sources of cash.
The concept of quid pro quo was intrinsically understood by all but the dimmest of dullards, and politicians were loath to appear beholden to special interests. After all, the idea was to portray oneself as a champion of the "little man" and provide him with "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage to boot!". Taking hoards of cash from the Wall Street and Hollywood elite played badly on Main Street in those days.
How times have a-changed. Today big money and successful campaigns go together like plutocracy and oligarchy on steroids. Campaigns openly flaunt the size of their war chest and often it is the determining factor in who pulls ahead early in the primary season. After all, voters don't like supporting a loser and money really does matter in perception management.
In today's game, what often distinguishes a minor candidate from a major candidate is money. A small war chest results in minimal visibility and few votes. Ask any third party candidate running for political office, if you can find their name and how to reach them.