Image-Dover

old-fashioned key

The choice isn’t between paying for campaigning and not paying for it.


Most private campaign spending is tax-exempt, paid for by all taxpayers.

Why Pay for Campaigns? You Already Do


​Why pay for campaigns? 


For one thing,

becausethe taxpayers already pay for most campaigning.

  • The public already pays directly for everything the government itself spends: allocating funds to candidates and parties and providing information to voters. This official spending is the largest single amount spent in any election.

  • Political parties are 527 organizations. Parties’ campaign spending, whether for candidates, the party as a whole, or issues, is entirely tax-exempt*. And they are second only to the governmentfor political spending, except…

  • in the 2014 elections independent spenders outspent the Democratic Party. Private nonparty spending is increasing rapidly. And it’s increasingly tax-exempt*. For nonparty 527 groups (unions, etc.), political spending is 100% tax-exempt. The various types of 501(c) and 504 groups, within regulations (for example, 501(c)4s can't spend more than 49% of their budgets on politics)  are 100% exempt. Spending by PACs and SuperPACs, the largest independent spenders of all, is 100% tax-exempt.


  • Nothing prevents an eventual exemption for all private campaign spending, which would amount to sole public funding with sole private control.


It’s easy to forget that a tax exemption isn’t like a manufacturer’s rebate. It doesn’t affect the price of the expenditure. It’s just an agreement among all taxpayers to share the expense of certain things that we need or value as a nation, rather than have the burden fall on the individual claiming the exemption. 

By granting tax exemptions for campaign spending we allow spenders’ cost of campaigning to be spread out among all taxpayers because running for office or providing us with information we need to make informed political choices are public functions: they are necessary parts of governance. 


This puts into perspective some objections to sole public funding, such as:


  • “It would force me to support candidates or views I don’t like” – it already does.
  • “It would take money away from other priorities” – it already does.  


The choice isn’t between paying for campaigning and not paying for it. We already pay.

But if we just stopped granting exemptions with no system to replace it, we’d effectively restrict political involvement and even political speech to the wealthy.​

If we're paying anyway, let's get our money's worth with control over total campaign spending, transparency, partisanship, fraud and electoral conduct!


Educating the public on an issue, or on civic involvement, isn't lobbying the public (grassroots lobbying) if it's nonpartisan, but falls into the 100% exempt non-FEC-regulated charitable-conduct category. Political spending that focuses primarily on issues and to a lesser extent on candidates or parties is also exempt. Grassroots lobbying itself can be done during elections, and is usually exempt, though it's regulated.


Spending that can only be defined as candidate- or party-oriented is only tax-exempt if donors' identities are disclosed. Even this isn't as high a bar as it used to be due to:  

  1. fairly lax IRS rules that allow moving most spending into the "issue" category,  
  2. dark money (donations through a chain of organizatons to conceal the original donors' identities), and
  3. the big one, although dark money gets more attention - regulations allowing a special-interest nonprofit that does more than politics (like educating the public, see above) to incorporate multiple connected organizations to cover each spending category, while directing general donations among them so as to stretch the 35% to cover all or most of the political spending of the original entity. Very little remains in the non-exempt political spending category.  
  4. And of course overhead (including what are sometimes six-figure salaries) is already exempt. 


*The tax rate for donations received is 35% (except when used for overhead, which is 100% deductible). 


Disclosure: The organization that created this website will be incorporating in June 2016 and applying for a 501(c)(4) exemption. But we are a limited-duration corporation. We're also 100% volunteer. And we own no assets but this website, which is free to the public. 


FEC rules, at www.fec.gov, and IRS rules and figures, at www.irs.gov, compiled by the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov) show these trends. Such companies as the Sunlight Foundation (www.sunlightfoundation.org), Open Secrets (www.opensecrets.org), and The Center for Responsive Politics (www.centerforresponsivepolitics.org) also show these trends. [This does not constitute endorsement of these corporations.]