US presidential campaign: A complex race for the White House

The top US electoral body that regulates the elections has little say in the campaigns as the loosely regulated election system is too complex.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hands a five-dollar bill back to a supporter after signing it for her following a rally with sportsmen in Walterboro, South Carolina February 17, 2016.

Updated Jun 25, 2016

In the US presidential elections campaign, a tense competition has started between the candidates to accumulate maximum money bids to make inroads to the White House.

So far, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is in the leading position over her rival billionaire estate tycoon Donald Trump, who represents the Republicans. Massive contributions by women for Hillary is a unique trend in this year’s elections.

In this photo taken June 15, 2016, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in Hampton

The Federal Election Commission, an independent body that was established back in 1974 to regulate the elections two years after Watergate scandal, has little say in the present day campaigns. 

There is no regulation barring individuals, corporations, unions and political organisations from financing campaigns in favour or against any candidate. The complex role of different lobbies, groups and corporations makes the task of the election body difficult to ensure fair practices let alone the implementation of the relevant laws.

These fund-raising committees and organisations are associated with party candidates directly or indirectly. Some of the groups are known as Political Action Committees (PACs) or Super-PACs that can raise and spend beyond the limits. There is a lot of confusion on the working and regulations of these committees.


PACs exist to support a presidential candidate in the elections. There are certain restrictions on PACs raising and spending money. This is different from campaign committees of candidates. PACs raise money from different sources. Presidential candidates need PACs’ donations for salaries, travel, rent, phone bills, producing ads, purchasing air time and other related expenses. The concept of PACs was first conceived during 1944 elections when members of a union wanted to help President Franklin Roosevelt get re-elected, creating a political committee for the purpose.


The concept of Super-PACs is a recent one in US elections. This is the unison of ‘independent’ groups founded by the candidates’ aides and funded by his or her sympathizers. They raise money from corporations, but they are not allowed to directly fund any candidate or party. They independently spend on ads, send emails and lobby.

They have unlimited freedom to raise and spend money. They are supposed to file details of such donations and spending. The idea to spend money without any limit in the presidential campaign also got approval of the apex court in 2010. The judgement opened the floodgate of money in the elections.

President Barack Obama severely criticized this freedom and held that it would manipulate the process. But practically, his administration could not offer any solution. Following the apex court’s verdict, the electoral body cannot stop independent expenditures (Super-PACs) by corporations and unions for political purposes. The court cited the First Amendment of the US constitution and linked this spending issue with freedom of speech.

Super-PACs are required to disclose their donors and are not allowed to coordinate with the candidates or agendas they advocate. But the ground realities are different. There is also no clear distinction of these committees’ operational framework.

These narrations are no more than a joke for many Americans.

In a comedy, US television satirist Stephen Colbert set up his own Super-Pac to spoof the system, saying that most US citizens simply don't buy that Super-Pacs are independent.

Money matters  

The defenders of the de-regulation of campaign finance believe that more money spent and donations ensure more debate and ads that become a source of information for citizens.

Campaign finance law in the US prohibits any one person from donating beyond specified limits directly to one candidate's campaign per election. But practically, individuals are free to donate money without any restriction for campaigns to organisations, according to a Supreme Court decision in 2010.

In the campaigns, the candidates ask people for support, time and money. Many become volunteers and run the campaigns while wealthy supporters donate huge amounts in response to requests by their favourite candidates.

During the 2012 presidential election, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson donated around $93 million to the Republicans. In these elections, two billionaire brothers -  Charles and David Koch - pledged to doll out around one billion dollars to elect a favourable president.

Charles Koch

Still one can be in trouble while showing such generosity. A Pakistani doctor based in Colorado shared his cordial with TRT World. “Following the federal court’s verdict, I gave donations to my favorite Republican candidate but my generosity put me in trouble,” he said, adding that Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) started probing him to ascertain the sources of his income. After few weeks of investigation, the FBI dropped the probe and gave him clearance.

How do candidates spend donations?

Trump has pledged that he will not withdraw salary from the national exchequer if he is elected, but in the election campaign paid himself $3,085 last month. It was spent on travel and other related expenses, according to the filings before FEC.

His rival Clinton criticized him and questioned his move to flourish his business companies from the election money.

Last month, Trump’s more than one million dollar campaign spending went to his own companies, including $423,000 on facility rental and catering at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort.

Protest against Trump

“Historically, candidates would spate themselves from their business interests when running for office. Trump has done the opposite by promoting his businesses while running for office,” Paul S Ryan, a campaign finance expert with the Campaign Legal Center told The New York Times.

Trump also did not spare Hilary and held that she is collecting blood money. In a television interview, CBS This Morning, he claimed that after getting tremendous amounts from Wall Street, she will take care of Wall Street. 

Trump also criticized Hillary for accepting money from the Saudi Arabian government for her foundation.

Author: Azam Khan