Political Campaigns: Crash Course Government and Politics #39

Political Campaigns: Crash Course Government and Politics #39

Hi I’m Craig and this is Crash Course Government
and Politics. And today we’re going to try and untangle
the mess that is the American political campaign. One of the things about the American political
system that often confuses people who don’t live in America is the way that our politicians
run for office. There are two aspects in particular that stand out about American political campaigns:
their length and their expense. We’re going to look at both of these today and see that
they’re related but before we do we are going to answer a burning question: why do we need
political campaigns anyway? [Theme Music] If you ask one hundred people about the reason
why we have political campaigns, you’ll get well, not a hundred but at least more than
one answer. And you might work for Family Feud. Probably the best answer to this question
though, is that we have political campaigns to provide voters with information they need to choose
a candidate to represent them. So how do political campaigns provide information? And what is a political
campaign anyway? Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. A campaign is an organized drive on the part
of a candidate to get elected to an office. It’s also the way we refer to the organization
itself. For example, in 2012 we had the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign. And each
consisted of a campaign organization made up of thousands of staffers and volunteers
and all of their activities. Most campaigns are temporary, geared towards an election
although both parties do have permanent professional campaign organizations. At the top level are
the national committees, the DNC and the RNC. Can you guess what they stand for? These organizations coordinate all national
campaigns, especially those for President. Each house of congress has a Republican and
Democratic campaign committee. The individual Senate and Congressional committees are headed
up by sitting members of the Senate and the House, and because these committees give money
to candidates, their leaders are very popular. I find that I’m popular when I make it rain
at parties. Campaigns provide information in a number
of ways. The main thing they do is communicate with the public, usually through the media
which we’ll discuss in greater depth in future episodes. The main stage of political campaigns
is the organized event where candidates can present information about themselves and their
policies directly through voters and speeches. These are known as stump speeches, although
only rarely these days do candidates actually speak on stumps, they have podiums and stages
now. In addition to these events, candidates present
the information by appearing on the TV, in debates, at town meetings, and in “impromptu”
photo opportunities. They like to appear with military hardware, too, although sometimes this can
backfire, as in the case of Michael Dukakis in 1988. Campaigns can spread their messages through
direct mail, press releases, news coverage, and through advertisements, often on the TV,
which is like the internet, only less interactive and has a lot of real housewives on it. Thanks,
thought bubble. Nowadays, there are many more ways that candidates
can reach out to voters. One way is through email. If you’ve ever given money to a candidate
or a campaign, you can expect emails in ever-increasing numbers as election day approaches, and we
all love that. Candidates now take to Twitter to blast out information and individual candidates
and their campaigns often have Facebook pages. There are even campaign ads made specifically
for YouTube, although how their advertising algorithm works is beyond me. It’s weird to get a campaign ad
for the Michigan Senate if you don’t live in Michigan. One other way that campaigns communicate
information is through raising money. Of course, they need money to pay for all the campaign ribbons
and buttons and PA systems and folding chairs and tour buses and stump speeches and axes
to chop down trees so they have stumps to speak on. These things ain’t cheap. Even more expensive are advertisements on
the TV. A sitting president has an advantage here in that he can usually get on TV whenever
he wants and he’ll have a chance to clarify his positions in the State of the Union Address.
But even he has to spend money on ads. And raising money is another way to present
voters with information because campaign solicitations usually come with some policy piece attached
to them. Almost every solicitation you get will be somewhat targeted to one of your interests
and tell you, or try to tell you, where the candidate asking for your money stands on
that issue. So you may have gotten a campaign solicitation
and wondered, “Hey, why you need my money?” The unhelpful answer is that they need your
money because campaigns are expensive. But then you might ask, “why are they so expensive?”
Good question. Campaigns are expensive because they’re huge,
especially presidential campaigns; they need to reach 220 million people of voting age.
Another reason they’re expensive is because they’re super long. Democrat and Republican
candidates raise money, give speeches and create political action committees years before
the election. It’s ridiculous. I blame the eagle. Campaigns are also expensive because Americans
expect them to be personal and this takes time and money. We like to see our candidates
in person and have them show up in small towns in Iowa and New Hampshire, even though those states
don’t matter all that much in the grand electoral picture. Another reason campaigns are so expensive
is that they rely increasingly on the TV and other visual media that cost a lot of money
to produce. Gone are the days when William McKinley could sit on his porch in Ohio and
have reporters come to him. Nowadays, even when candidates get free exposure by appearing
on nightly comedy shows, like The Daily Show, it still costs the campaign in terms of time,
travel and probably wardrobe and makeup so that they can look as good as I do. No makeup.
Minimal wardrobe: no pants. Sorry, Stan. How expensive are campaigns anyway? Eh…very!
In the 2008 presidential campaign both candidates together spent three billion dollars. In 2012
the candidates spent about a billion dollars each, and outside groups spent a further four
billion. And congressional elections weren’t much cheaper,
except when you consider that there were a lot more of them. Combined, congressional
races in 2008 cost about one billion dollars. All the money that gets spent on campaigns
leads us inevitably to campaign finance rules, which were set up by Congress after 1970 and
refined by the courts. We have campaign finance legislation because
all that money pouring into campaigns sure looks like it raises the potential for corruption.
Whether or not an individual’s campaign contributions can sway a congressman’s vote is highly debatable
but it certainly gives the appearance of impropriety when a congressman who receives millions of
dollars from the oil industry then works hard to weaken regulations on oil companies so
that they can make more profit. Campaign contributions are not bribes, but
they sure look like them to lots of people. Recognizing that campaign contributions could
potentially influence the political process, congress passes the Federal Election Campaign
act of 1971. This was the first law that put limits on campaign spending and donations.
It was further refined by the McCain-Feingold Campaign Law in 2002, and by court decisions
that refined the rules for campaign spending and donations and provided a legal rationale
for these limits. Until recently, the most important case on
campaign finance was Buckley V Valleo. This case established the idea that limits on campaign
spending were problematic under the first amendment because limiting the amount someone
could spend on politics was basically limiting what that person could say about politics.
Freedom of speech, y’all! According to the rules, individuals were allowed
to donate up to $2500 per candidate and their was a total limit to the amount an individual
could give. Donations to a party committee, which because they don’t go to a specific candidate
and thus seem less like bribes, were limited to $28,500. Individual donors were also allowed to give
up to $5,000 to a political action committee, or PAC. But it gets more complicated. Individuals
and PACs are allowed to give unlimited funds to a 527 group, named after its designation
in the tax code, that focuses on issue advocacy. The most famous 527 group in recent political memory
is probably Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which spent more than 22 million dollars to raise awareness around
the issue of whether 2004 presidential candidate, and later Secretary of State John Kerry was
completely honest about his Vietnam War record. If this sounds like it was more of an organization
against the candidate himself, well you can see why the line between “issue advocacy” and support for a political campaign can be kind of blurry. Now here’s something important: these limits
are on contributions to candidates and campaigns, not on spending by candidates and campaigns.
What this means is that a candidate and their campaign can spend however much they raise.
So if a candidate running for office has one billion dollars, they can spend one billion trying to
win. There’s no concern about self-funded candidates bribing themselves, and you often see very rich people
spending a lot of their own money trying to win office. So Buckley Vs. Valleo set up the basic distinction
between campaign donations, which could be limited, and campaign spending, which couldn’t.
This distinction was undercut by the Supreme Court in the case of Citizens United Vs. the Federal
Election Commission in 2009. This reaffirmed the idea that money is the equivalent of speech and struck
down many of the limitations on campaign donations. The Citizens United decision cleared the way
for Super PACs. These organizations are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money
to promote a candidate or publicize a cause, but they may not directly contribute to a
candidate or coordinate with a campaign. In the 2012 election, there were over 500 registered
super PACs and 41 of them spent over half a million dollars. The largest seven had spent
over 256 million by the end of August, one of the reasons that the 2012 election was the
most expensive ever, clocking in at around 6 billion. Now this sounds like a lot of money, right?
It is. Gimme it. But a little context: the total spent on house and senate races was
around 3.6 billion dollars, which was less than half of what Americans spend annually
on potato chips. So when you look at it this way, the amount we spend on elections doesn’t
seem like so much, which may make us rethink the idea that money is corrupting American
politics. Or maybe not. Maybe potato chips are corrupting American politics. Certainly
corrupting my belly. American political campaigns are big and high
stakes and raise questions about the influence of money in politics that are tough to answer.
On the one hand, it does seem like there’s the potential for very rich people to have
a lot of influence on the elections. On the other hand, limiting a person’s ability to
register his or her preference of a candidate through spending on that candidate does seem
like a limitation on their political speech. One of the arguments for limits on campaign
contributions is that forcing candidates to raise money in small amounts from a large
number of donors will make them reach out to larger numbers of constituents, and appealing
to large numbers is the essence of Democracy. But it’s also time consuming for a politician
to reach out to all those potential donors and congressmen already spend a considerable
amount of time raising money when they should be legislating. And watching Real Housewives.
And eating Little Caesar’s. There’s a lot to do. But this is the system we have, and unless
congress passes a law limiting campaign expenditures, or shortening the campaign season, we can
expect campaigns to remain long and get more and more expensive. Thanks for watching, I’ll
see you next time. Crash Course Government and Politics is produced
in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course US Government comes from
Voqal. Voqal supports non-profits that use technology and media to advance social equity.
Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Voqal.org. Crash Course was made with the
help of all of these campaign financiers. Thanks for watching.


  • caramida9

    What if the state would decide for a fixed amount of money that each candidate is allowed to spend? And to be even more fair subsidize that money to them…?

  • Alex Ruiz

    I just binge watched this entire series in two days. This was pretty amazing. Keep doing what your doing!

  • johndtha

    In Britain we have direct laws limiting both the length of the campaign season and each party's expenditure on their campaign, I really don't understand what is preventing the USA doing the same.

  • Ivet Ruiz

    how can someone actually agree with Bernie Sanders' socialist views it is very clear to see how socialism in Europe worked out… America was built on capitalism, built on entrepreneurship, America has 70% of the worlds patents and has the most large companies in the world, there are definitely social programs that can be used but paying 52% of your income come on…

  • David Bulger

    "On the tv"

  • Matthew Murphy

    Please make one on Filibustering!!!

  • robox91

    Are you also gone talk about why there are basically 2 parties in the US. 2 parties doesn't sound very democratic to me.

  • SecretAgentMan00

    "….or eating Little Caeser's"

    I was literally eating Little Caeser's $5 large pepperoni deal while watching LOL

  • medievalmusiclover

    Great videos congratulations….  except for Adolph Trump…..son of Hitler.

  • pete275

    For the question "why are campaigns so expensive", they seem to avoid the most obvious conclusion, which is that 1) spending more on a campaign is correlated to a better result in the election and 2) a good result in the election is very profitable. If your opponent is spending more than you, you'll want to spend more than them. So what is the limit? the limit is how much money you think you'll make back from that investment. If the cost of campaigns goes up with every election, it means they haven't yet reached the ceiling on the returns for their investments.

  • Apple Sauce

    Bernie Sanders 2016. He is the only politician without a super PAC aka a group of rich people who are presidents of oil companies, Monsanto, Coca Cola, etc.

  • Trevor Bennet

    want to limit campaign corruption? make term limits for congress

  • Mansamusa17

    Hillary Clinton 2016

  • Y8R

    I love how you say "TV", hahah.

  • lucidity

    Citizens United can be summed up into "one dollar, one vote". so a rich person has much more votes than a poor one.
    kinda goes against the spirit of "one person, one vote" don't you think?

  • NickSheridanVids


  • LReBe7

    In my country there's an outright ban on donations from companies to parties and it works fine! the way I see it, America simply IS NOT a democracy. Reform the campaigning rules and reform the stupid electoral college with that first past the post system and the entire world will be better of. Then it may actually be the land of the free and the home of the brave…

  • Rick Apocalypse

    If we limit the contribution, but don't limit the spending, isn't that gonna create more incentives to billionaries to run for office ?

  • mercury523

    Looking for a Crash Course episode that explains the details of caucuses – what actually happens…

  • Mawgan S.

    Ahh, US politics. The most complicated system of politics

  • Rick Apocalypse

    If the Supreme Court already prohibited the limitation on campaign donations, how would congress prohibit it ????

  • Roman Wing

    Even as an American I am very confused why the election takes so long

  • Bethan Laughlin

    This series is wonderful, but is there any way of getting hold of the sources for the statistics being mentioned ?

  • Koru

    you have a red tie in the intro so are you a republican?

  • A Creepy Muffin


  • BearOwl

    "Money equals speech" would work as an argument if the United States was communist, but it's not. As a capitalist state some people are going to have more money than others (which I'm not against as I think a meritocracy is the best system), so if money equals speech then some people will get to speak more than others, dismantling the foundations of democracy. I would argue that the current campaign finance system goes against the fourteenth amendment which is supposed to guarantee equal protection under the law. It's not equal if the richest people can be more protected against regulations than common people.
    This isn't a diss on the video, by the way. I'm just stating my opinion on the issue.

  • Grace P

    Marco Rubio withdrawal is real

  • IAmTheAce5

    …okay… I haven't been watching CrashCourse long, but… what's his problem with the eagle?

  • medibooty

    Minimum wardrobe, no makeup, and a receding hairline. (Sarcasm.)

  • MD Starfaith

    Woo Pizzamas happy dance

  • Ben Toth

    "…When a congressman who receives millions of dollars from the oil industry then works hard to weaken regulations on oil companies so they can make more profit." Hey, you mentioned the senator from my state. 😛 Seriously though, that's Senator Inhofe, sadly.

  • Paige Smith

    Craig is my favorite! These videos are so awesome, I wish he was my government teacher. 😀 Thanks crash course!

  • Levi Howell

    We live in a modern aristocracy

  • sofia chavez

    the eagle gets me every time lol

  • WeirdWorld

    Politics = Influence = Power = Wealth = Knowledge

  • Chels M.

    I love these videos they help me understand what i am learning in class. Thank you.

  • Matthew Smith

    So, what he is saying, is that big companies are unable to provide very much funding to individual campaigns and people running (a.k.a. a small 3rd party) however instead they are encouraged to provide "not a bribe contributions" to major political parties? Sounds less like an ethics law and more like a law restricting any third party from ever reaching the public.

  • Apuntes 888

    It´s their people who they want to freed and not necesarilly their politicians (political science works diffently and even in a contradictorian way in comparison to social science), so their bets goes to the effects of their contradictorian actions rather than the immediate socially spected by rules O.O

  • Larry Lawrence

    why is there no comparison to other governments and campaigns finance reform? is there a link to a less biased video?

  • Willie Clark

    If money is speech I refuse to pay taxes for wars I don't agree with

  • Ikoikjji

    It annoyed me how he kept referring to the presidents as he

  • Andrew Fernandes


  • AmenNoose


  • byron2521

    Yeah, but "freedom of speech" for corporations does not translate into "freedom of speech"for the people.

  • byron2521

    Hmmmm…… Iowa doesn't matter? Its caucus only decides who will be the candidates in the nationwide primary.

  • Alex Qui

    How would I cite this?? MLA

  • Joker Locks

    do you guys understand what a permanent campaign is?

  • HappyDonutFarts

    Crash course alright… heavily glossed over about which elements in campaigning should run in hundreds of millions of dollars. Campaign buttons and signs… Seriously? One would think that the digital information age would make it cheaper and easier to spread. Is it necessary to shell out 10's of millions of dollars to GoDaddy for website production and Youtube channels? Network television time slots shouldn't mean as much as they once had, in fact they're becoming more archaic after each cycle, and that should be considered a good thing!

  • Calvin Hemmers


  • Adam D

    We need publicly funded elections to buy back democracy, and we should treat members of congress as harshly as college scholarship athletes. Where they can't take money from anyone, for any reason, at any time.

  • Chris Miller

    Informative video, but you are so unfunny it is literally painful.

  • Kent Whitson

    II I
    I I_

  • Isabella Chardiet

    I've been a huge fan of crash course for my entire high school career. I'm honestly beginning to wonder if Stan is a real person, or just a figment of imagination both John Green and K-dawg like to talk to.

  • Stokley 135

    “I blame the eagle” LMAO!!!

  • Ishi 123

    Campaign contributions are bribes, plain and simple. You can call it something else, but it's legal bribery.

  • Eleventh Ave Productions

    This dude actually makes me learn AND laugh hahaha

  • Julia Wang

    Bring back the table of contents?

  • Gary Lupinacci

    Money = speech came to us from all the republican appointed SCOTUS Justices. Thanks republicans. Of course rebubs would say in campaigns there should b no limit on PACs that “money is free speech”!!

  • Soojong Ha

    Gil Cisneros…..
    Who else sees this ad?
    YouTube’s algorithm is scaaarrrry…..

  • Edith Hernandez

    Heck, I'll vote for wheezy

  • Ric Sta

    Always skeptical of billionaires as politicians, yet non politician President Trump US elected. Indeed, retaining former business associates as current political associates is never in the public's interest. However, influencing elections outright is even worse. Campaign finance reform is what the US should also be investigating as recent midterm elections had Tom Steyer contributing $120 million.

  • Max London

    Why does he say TV so weirdly???

  • Gary Alexander

    So by what he just said and I watched a video on impeachment every candidate in the United States can be impeached they all are breaking the law oh I forgot they make the laws so they get a getaway free card that's what you get when you got Crooks making the laws

  • bea legata

    lol manny pacquiao spotted

  • Ana Martinez1998

    RIP John Mcain

  • Elijah Ford

    They should be based off actual ISSUES and policies, not the candidates’ personalities and ID politics.

  • Elijah Ford

    Down with super pacs!

  • Orion M42

    Helped allot with understanding my homework thx


    Very nice explanation.

  • Dawn Tache

    This video doesn't mention that US elections are the world's most expensive. I think its an important comparison. It should also be updated to include the growing number of candidate that are refusing PAC money.

  • baracki4

    Why do you punch eagle?

  • R. W

    Its Left Wing policy of government meddling in the economy that encourages corruption. Take politicians out of the economy and there won't be any more money in politics

  • Elle Seamster

    Who is going to be the only one to stand out and stop geo enginerring the chemical assult that's going on everyday on US Citizens and the the food poisioning with GMO Monsanto loaded foods that r desinged to kill people like rat poisons kill rats who's got the balls,,??????????

  • Elle Seamster

    I hope trump wins I think he's got the balls

  • Jeffrey Morton

    Also be warned that if you donate to a candidate via a phone solicitation, odds are good that none of the money you thought will help your candidate will actually ever reach where you wanted it to go. Instead, most of it will be eaten up by the "marketing costs" and "administrative fees" incurred by the call centers & their owners. I think by law, only 2% of donations actually have to go to the cause or candidate. Don't ever give money over the phone…

  • John Doe

    Punching the eagle is just cringy

  • Matthew Bradshaw

    Help my campaign be the most transparent, for God's Glory, grass roots funded campaign ever!

    Matthew E. Bradshaw

  • berit branch

    I am scared of beards but you have the cutest baby I ever saw. Soon you will need a Nanny. I am NOT available.>(((*>




    sksksk and i oop

  • kricketcraze EXCO


  • ontledingen

    I hope I don't come across as mean, but I think this video is undermined by the extremely unfunny "jokes".

  • Kayla Rose

    Iowa is a swing state… making it pretty important in the presidential election 🙂

  • Terra Bee

    I see a lot of “money shouldn’t equal speech,” but the thing is that Political Speech is the MOST protected type of speech under the First Amendment. SCOTUS ruled to get rid of spending limitations because it infringed on freedom of political speech. Whether you believe this is good or not, it is a product of Judicial Activism and is how SCOTUS decided to interpret the Constitution.

  • Kayla Snow

    Talk slower bruh

  • Rainb0wWarrior1

    If Craig only foreseen how Trump changed everything

  • Misha Miller

    So, if the donation goes to a "good cause", the donation can essentially be unlimited, and candidates can join these "good cause" organizations in order to receive more money per individual. Am I correct in my assumptions based on this video?

  • My Alias

    I love PBS!

  • BlueprintAndYou

    Doesn't trump have a written note written in all caps that's says, everything is PERFECT! Hard to argue with all caps.

  • Taylor Garrett

    Is it legal to make a youtube video advertising a presidential candidate without working or volunteering at an organization?

  • exotic gaming elephant

    How many are watching this for test coming up for civics

  • Nathan Page

    Craig, I knew John Green. John Green was my friend. Craig….. You are no John Green

  • eric vulgate

    'contributions are not bribes' based on what?
    what do you suggest they are, charity?
    corporations showing civic responsibility?

  • PE D

    Just like the rest of the DNC/liberal mainstream media (aka propaganda mill), PBS has been corrupted by the democrats (aka liberals/globalists) so its info is unreliable. The lighthearted humor doesn't sufficiently disguise your misinformation. Why not do a video on how politicians get rich via donations running for office (e.g. Bernie Sanders and ALL of the others)? Wouldn't want to expose the truth, right?

  • Daniel Xie

    LMAO 2:18 Samsong

  • Chase Brown

    I still dont understand why campaigns need to raise hundreds of million of dollars for hotel rooms and flights….maybe a commerical here and there.. still things ain't adding up.

  • Emilio Reyes

    7:02 Bloomberg LOL


    Well don't worry. I LIKE YOUR WORK

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