Hard money, the new soft money

Stephen W. Stromberg
June 29, 2004 9:30PM (UTC)

The money keeps flowing into campaign war chests this election cycle, with both parties breaking fundraising records. Just today, John Kerry's campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, advertised over e-mail the Kerry campaign's nearly $1 million, one-day draw in contributions last Friday. President Bush's vaunted money machine, meanwhile, could afford to spend $85 million on ads after the Democratic primaries and still have plenty left in the bank. But after McCain-Feingold, where is all the money coming from?

A report from Campaigns and Elections explains that hard money has become the new soft money. From the article: "'It's really a story of small giving,' [Brookings Institution analyst Anthony] Corrado said. 'Parties are adapting much more quickly than people thought.'"


"Peter Buttenweiser, a fund-raiser for Democratic candidates, said the new campaign finance system removes disproportionate influence given to large donors. 'Life is happier under the new law and I think people feel better,' Buttenweiser said. 'There are fewer power dinners. By that I mean 16 big donors sitting down with a vice president or the president. Those are not fun.'

"Individual hard-money donations to candidates and parties totaled $814.2 million for the first 15 months of the 2004 election cycle, up from $470.5 million at this point in 2000 and $329.9 million in 2002.

"Some soft money is still finding its way into elections through so-called 527 groups, which currently do not face contribution limits for their election involvement. So far 527s have raised $183.9 million in soft money, considerably less than the $760.9 million in soft money at play at this point in 2002."

So McCain-Feingold didn't bankrupt national campaigns, as its detractors had predicted. It just convinced candidates to look outside Beltway luncheons for the big bucks. After all, Kerry's one-day, $1 million draw didn't come from a fundraiser, but from an Internet donation drive.

Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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