BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
This column is mostly intended for readers outside the United States who may not be familiar with U.S. campaign contribution laws. Interestingly, even Americans are often confused about the complex regulations regarding limits of political contributions that are different in local, state and federal elections.
Let’s take a closer look at contributions for federal elections, including, presidential elections. The contribution limit per person to a presidential candidate is $2,700 per election. While most Americans donate much smaller amounts, some legally contribute tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions of dollars!
An individual can contribute $10,000 per year to a State, District or Local Political Party Committee, and $33,400 per year to a National Party Committee. However, an individual may contribute $100,200 per year, for each type of election-related expenses. There are also “PACs” (Political Action Committees) and “super PACs” that can make unlimited contributions.
Both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates engage in a variety of perfectly legal, yet questionable practices, to exceed by far the $2,700 campaign contribution per person. To illustrate this point, let me quote from a recent email I received from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was to visit Beverly Hills, California, on Sept. 13, to participate in two exclusive events that would have raised millions of dollars for her campaign. Unfortunately, due to her unexpected illness, her trip was postponed.
The first event was scheduled for the afternoon of Sept. 13 at the home of Seth MacFarlane with a special performance by Lionel Richie. The email announced that anyone who contributed $33,400 was entitled to have “lunch, preferred seating, and photo” with Hillary Clinton. Those contributing $10,000 could only have “lunch and preferred seating,” but no photo with the presidential candidate. Those contributing $5,000 could have just lunch, no preferred seating and no picture with the former First Lady.
Later that evening, a more exclusive, therefore, more expensive fundraising event was scheduled. Those who could afford to contribute $100,000 per couple had the privilege of participating in a “conversation and dinner with Hillary Rodham Clinton at the home of Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller.” The event was chaired by “Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, Jane and Michael Eisner, Karen and Russell Goldsmith, and Edgar Sargsyan.”
A week after Hillary Clinton’s scheduled fundraising events, her running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, had two appearances in Southern California. On Sept. 19, a luncheon hosted by Jay Sures in Beverly Hills was billed as “Conversation with Tim Kaine.” Only those contributing $27,000 could attend the reception with the candidate. Those donating $10,000 could have only a photo with the Vice Presidential candidate (no reception), while those contributing $2,700 could just have lunch (no reception and no photo)!
Later that evening, a much more expensive event, billed as “Latinos for Hillary, Dinner with Tim Kaine,” was held at the Los Angeles home of Eva Longoria. Those paying $100,000 were entitled to attend the reception, have dinner and a photo with Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. For $33,400, the donor could only have dinner and a photo, while those who could only afford $10,000 just had dinner!
While some make large campaign contributions to rub shoulders with politicians and celebrities that attend such fundraising events, others expect personal or business favors from a candidate that may end up being President of the United States. These contributions are perfectly legal because the candidate discloses the donor’s name and provides a receipt. In many countries, money handed to political candidates is called bribery.
Some American politicians brag that they do not accept campaign contributions from PACs or corporations so that they would not be indebted to major donors after the election! In a recent email, Cong. John Sarbanes (Democrat-Maryland) stated that he does not take PAC money because “I don’t want to get pushed around.” He stressed that he believes in “government of, by and for the people!”