Running for political office requires more than a great platform and a good speechwriter. First and foremost, candidates need money. Campaigning is expensive, so political hopefuls rely on donations from supporting individuals and groups to raise the funds they need.
However, when a candidate receives financial backing from a large group, such as a special interest group, it raises the question: Since the group financially supported the politician, will the politician, once in office, feel obligated to support the interests of that group? This case is especially important in the event that the politician might run for office again, and consequently needs to maintain the group's support. Advocates of campaign finance reform argue that this is the case.
Campaign finance laws regulate not only how much money can be contributed, but also who can contribute. (For example, an individual can only donate $2,000 per election to a federal candidate. And corporations and labor unions can't donate at all.) Keep in mind that these rules operate at the federal level; elections for state and local offices are subjected to the laws of their jurisdictions.
In the past, there were two kinds of monetary contributions to a federal campaign: hard money and soft money. Hard money referred to the funds donated directly to a campaign, while soft money described funds contributed to a political party or an organization. Consequently, hard money was intended to support a person, while soft money supported an issue. Soft money contributions were unlimited and difficult to account for, so they became a source of controversy. In 2002, after much debate, the McCain-Feingold bill was signed into law, banning soft money in contributions to national political parties and increasing the amount of hard money that people can donate.
Politicians can also receive donations from political action groups (PACs), which can range from business associations to single-interest groups. These contributions are also controversial because PACs are often sponsored by corporations, so many people think they function like bribes.
Below are some Web sites that can help both to outline issues and to understand who is contributing how much to each candidate.