Do the big donors to a losing US presidential candidate ever get their money back? And if so, how, and in how much time?

  • 1
    I don't think they get their money back (it is a gamble on the winner).
    – Max
    Nov 21, 2016 at 18:03
  • 2
    @hownowbrowncow Yeah, bro, I can imagine that, but still.... I am trying to educate myself about USA, as I am an European. :d Nov 21, 2016 at 18:15
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    There's often been a case made that some larger corporations are effectively funding both sides. I've never been entirely sure how accurate or reputable those kinds of figures are though.
    – origimbo
    Nov 21, 2016 at 18:20
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    They don't necessarily get their money back if they win, either. Donor = Donation != investment.
    – user1530
    Nov 21, 2016 at 18:27
  • 2
    There are second order considerations too: Big donors do not donate only to win a single election. They might give to both parties/sides to hedge their bets, they might consistently donate based on a special issue to signal their willingness to back up or fight candidates that do not agree with them, they might gain influence in a party by establishing themselves as a reliable big donors for that party across several election cycles.
    – Relaxed
    Nov 22, 2016 at 22:27

1 Answer 1


There are no refund requirements

The Federal Election Commission oversees national elections. They have compiled the various election laws in a single document. I've read some of these laws, searched for things, went through the index, and more - and have found nothing about any situation where refunds are required for campaign donors - whether they win or lose.

Refunds may be optional

However, candidates may refund money at their own discretion. Back in 2010, ABC had a story about the sudden rise in refunds of campaign contributions for various reasons. Generally, these refunds were because candidates had accepted money from organizations who made them look bad (for example, some of the refunds were connected to large banks after the banking collapse).


The same ABC article mentions a law requiring candidates to refund contributions if they drop out before their primary (or caucus). This is because the election laws define elections as being federal elections (general, special, run-off, etc.) and primaries. If you accept campaign contributions and don't actually participate in an election, then you don't have a lawful usage of those funds.

  • 1
    @PaulEgnahcxekcats No I don't think that's common. It's more likely that they say "if you win, you approve of some appointment, remove or submit some new legislature, something like that". For example, large multinational banks supported hillary clinton because she was friendly to this sort of environment and wouldn't rock the boat. Trump, on the other hand wants more favor to fall towards the common Worker at the expense of multinational corporations and globalized markets distributing wealth across borders. Therefore, they back the one whom is best for business. Nov 21, 2016 at 18:55
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    @PaulEgnahcxekcats - Really, there is no mechanism for this to happen. They could try to make such a deal, but they don't have any way to enforce it. And of course there is no way to refund money that has already been spent. Elected officials are always worried about funds for the next election, so there is always the possibility of withholding future campaign donations. Nov 21, 2016 at 19:00
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    @indigochild I would note the difficulty of returning spent money in your answer.
    – user9389
    Nov 21, 2016 at 21:27
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    Is there any history here? Did HRC actually return any donations in 2008 when she lost the primary battle with Obama?
    – user9790
    Nov 22, 2016 at 14:32
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    @PaulEgnahcxekcats from that article: "The goal, however, is always to spend all of that money." Money paid to Viacom for a commercial is not going back to Boeing as a refunded donation.
    – user9389
    Nov 22, 2016 at 16:46

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