Can Politicians Use Their Own Money To Campaign?

Politician during election campaign, speaking to the crowd from stage.
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The challenge of running for the President of the United States or other high-ranking political office is a demanding and expensive one. While the majority of election campaigns are built on canvassing for donations, they also attract candidates with enormous fortunes.

But can these well-heeled representatives use their own money to fund their political campaigns?

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The history of election funding is full of candidates who have supported their campaigns using their own hard-earned cash, including presidential contender Ross Perot, who changed the independent financing game back when he unsuccessfully ran for president in the 1990s.

In 2020, three billionaires — Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer and Donald Trump — funded their White House bids with their own money to various extents, but wealthy politicians have been ballot candidates since the first presidential election in 1788, according to Business Insider. 

While strict House rules prohibit using or borrowing campaign funds for any personal purposes, a candidate can certainly use their personal wealth to fund their campaign.

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According to the Federal Election Committee (FEC), a candidate’s personal funds (not including gifts or personal and bank loans) are considered campaign contributions, but they are not subject to the cyclical contribution limits first established in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

The FEC describes personal funds as:

  • Assets which the candidate has a legal right of access to or control over, and which he or she has legal title to or an equitable interest in, at the time of candidacy
  • Income from employment
  • Dividends and interest from, and proceeds from sale or liquidation of, stocks and other investments
  • Income from trusts, if established before the election cycle
  • Income from trusts established by bequests (even after candidacy)
  • Bequests to the candidate
  • Personal gifts that had been customarily received by the candidate prior to the beginning of the election cycle
  • Proceeds from lotteries and similar games of chance

It is interesting to note that those running for political office can also use their personal funds to finance loans to aid their campaigns. Like personal funds, loans are considered contributions without limits, but have unique rules governing forgiveness and repayment.

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Like contributions made from the candidate’s personal funds, loans must be reported, although the level of reporting varies depending on whether the personal funds of the candidate were contributed directly or loaned to their election committee.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.
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