US election words of the week: hard and soft money

Posted by on August 23, 2016

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s words are hard money and soft money.

In a previous post in this series we looked at the terms PAC and super PAC. The funds these two different types of organizations raise are often referred to respectively as hard money and soft money. Here’s what Investopedia has to say about the differences between the two:




When cash is contributed directly to a political candidate, it is known as a “hard money” contribution. These contributions may only come from an individual or a political action committee, and must follow the strict limits set forth by the Federal Election Commission.

“Soft money” contributions, on the other hand:

… can come from individuals and political action committees as with “hard money”, but they can also come from any other source, such as corporations. The law says that this money can only be used for “party-building activities” such as advocating the passage of a law and voter registration, and not for advocating a particular candidate in an election.

While the amount that can be given directly to candidates (hard money) is strictly regulated, no such restrictions apply to soft money; and of course people long ago found ways to get round the regulations on how soft money can be spent, leading to a ballooning of the spending on presidential elections that shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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