Campaign contributions generally refer to money that is given to people who are running for elected office. Most countries, and regions or states within those countries, have laws that govern who can contribute to the campaigns and how much money they can give. In some countries, only individuals can contribute, whereas business or corporations are prohibited from contributing. In the United States, legislation called Campaign Finance Reform sparked such a debate that the U.S. Supreme Court had to make a ruling as to the constitutionality of the law.
In most countries, people running for office and their election committees are required to keep careful records regarding campaign contributions. The records will typically include not only the dollar amount, but also the date the donation was received and who made the donation. If any questions arise as to the legality of a campaign contribution, these records may be subject to review by oversight and judicial branches at any given time, and sometimes without warrant or subpoena.
Strict and carefully monitored regulations of campaign contributions are believed necessary to limit the incidence of bribery and corruption. These regulations are meant to prohibit wealthy and influential individuals or corporations from “buying” their own candidates. By limiting the amount of money that can be donated by any one individual, the hope is that no one will be able to gain disproportionate influence on a given candidate.
In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling on “Citizens United." This case eventually forced the Supreme Court to rule on the issue of large corporations and how they can legally donate to campaigns. It was reported that the Supreme Court was much divided on the issue, but in a 5-4 decision, it eventually sided with the corporations.
The essence of the argument was that limitations on campaign contributions were a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. This amendment allows for freedom of speech. The argument was that free speech also included being able to support and donate to election campaigns, without undue restriction.
Some people believe that freedom of speech as outlined in the U.S. Constitution should only apply to individuals, and not corporations. They believe that the Supreme Court decision will, in effect, pollute American politics. They argue that the decision makes it much easier for corporations and wealthier individuals to use their power and influence to help put into power candidates who are sympathetic to their corporate needs. Some argue that if funding is left only to individuals, it keeps a more level playing field for all the candidates.