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What are Partial Public Financing Systems?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Partial public financing systems are campaign financing tools used most often during primary elections for the President, in the US. There are some partial public financing systems in place for third party or party candidates that compete in the general election, but these are used less often. Not all primary candidates rely on partial public financing systems because these do impose a spending limit on candidates. If a candidate is raising money well in excess of what he/she would receive through such a system, he/she is not under any obligation to use this method.

In the US, in presidential primary elections, candidates have to meet certain criteria before they can qualify to take part in partial public financing systems. They can spend no more than $50,000 US Dollars (USD), though this amount changes with inflation at times, of their own money. They are limited to spending amounts in each state in which they compete, and they must raise $5000 USD in every state. This last provision is slightly confusing because individuals’ contributions of more than $250 USD do not count toward this total. A candidate would thus need 20 people to contribute $250 USD each in order to reach $5000 USD.

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Candidates participating in partial public financing systems have two kinds of limits imposed on their spending. Spending in each state is predetermined, and total spending is limited to a specific amount. For candidates who don’t raise very much money in primary contests, this may be a viable option for continuing their candidacy; the government will match up to $250 USD of contributions from individual donors, for each donor, until spending limits are reached.

There are some instances where partial public financing systems may be used in the general election. First, major candidates can opt into total public financing, where money raised from the general election fund essentially funds the entire campaign of a presidential nominee of a major party. Campaign and state by state spending limits are still imposed, and many opt out of public financing because they can raise more money and not limit their spending.

Yet candidates who belong to a minor party or who are part of a newly formed party, may receive partial public financing based on how well their party did in the previous presidential election. Candidates belonging to a minor party must have received between 5-25% of the vote in the last presidential election to participate in partial public financing systems, at least in the US. If a candidate represents a new party, then he or she obviously has no vote total from the previous presidential election. In order to receive partial public financing, the candidate must receive at least 5% of the popular vote in the current election. When this occurs the candidate is reimbursed provided he kept to agreed upon spending limits, but reimbursement doesn’t occur until after the election has taken place.

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