Political donations come from individuals, political parties, and political action committees (PACs). Individual donors range from friends, family, and others supporting a loved one's campaign to wealthy contributors who want to exert political influence. A candidate's political party can boost electoral prospects by donating money at crucial points during a campaign. PACs are formed by unions, industry leaders, and political leaders to make donations and create advertisements for political candidates. These donors are often limited in their total political donations per election based on local, regional, and national campaign finance laws.
Depending on the law of the jurisdiction, money donated to a political campaign is documented on campaign finance reports filed during election periods. These reports outline the number of individual, party, and PAC donations given to candidates throughout their campaign. The transparency of political donations emerged in the late 20th century due to advancements in data storage. Election officials are able to publish campaign finance reports on their websites for viewing by reporters, election experts, and voters.
Individuals interested in a particular candidate or party might make political donations prior to Election Day. Individual donation limits vary by jurisdiction. These donations might not represent large amounts of money but candidates can gauge their support by their donor numbers. Local and regional candidates vying for party nominations often compete for the most donors in their districts as a way to establish support prior to elections.
Political parties from the local to the national level distribute funds to their candidates to strengthen electoral prospects. Party committees benefit from donations across multiple election cycles that can be distributed to cash-strapped candidates. Elected officials and party leaders within a region might coordinate political donations to candidates who are more likely to win seats from the opposing party. These donations might also be necessary for elected officials running for reelection against strong candidates.
PACs are set up by political groups and businesses to legally contribute to campaigns in the United States. These committees register with the Federal Election Commission with donation limits of $5,000 U.S. Dollars (USD) per candidate each election period. These donors represent the largest contributors to local, state, and national political candidates as of January 2011. The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the top ten donors to U.S. political campaigns in 2010 were issue-oriented PACs like ActBlue ($47.8 million), business PACs like Goldman Sachs ($33.2 million) and union PACs like the Laborers Union ($30 million).