From this comment comes the quote:

on a practical level, if you suck as a politician THAT much that you can't raise a paltry $50k in a country with 300Mil population, you clearly don't have enough of a base to be worth invited to a debate

The context was that for a Republican primary debate, one requirement was to raise 500,000 US$ in 90 days. As a consequence, candidate Buddy Roemer did not get invited, despite meeting other requirements, such as polling at least 2% in opinion polls.

Personally, I have always considered financial barriers for participation in elections or electoral debates undemocratic. In some countries, such barriers are justified by administrative costs. Other arguments I've heard is to prevent a too large number of candidates to take part, but a requirement of presenting at a minimum number of signatures should sufficiently prevent that.

What arguments can be mode in favour of financial barriers for the participation of political candidates in elections or electoral debates?

(I could also ask what arguments can be made against, but I consider that a rather obvious question and can easily come up with several reasons myself)


3 Answers 3


Wait, wait, wait. You said this was a primary debate. That makes a major difference.

That distinction makes the answer crystal clear and obvious.

If you can't raise that - relatively small - sum, for the primaries, it means you are going to have trouble raising money for general election as well. (Please recall that 2012 election took something on the order of $1 Billion raised by both general election candidates).

Ergo, you have ZERO chance to win in a general election.

Ergo, the party has no interest in considering you a meaningful candidate for general election.

Ergo, they will not waste the finite resources of a debate (airtime, attention spans) on you.

Please note that Republican primaries are internal party affair, which have only one aim - find a candidate who is the most likely to balance winning a general election and represent the party.

Someone with small fundraising clearly doesn't even remotely move the scales on the first side of that balance, and therefore is considered to be a worthless candidate.

Now, if such a monetary limit was official for general election debate, that would be a different question.

  • </the_architect>
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 15:42
  • 1
    Right, that's actually quite pragmatic and independent on the moral judgement if it's right that the ability to raise funds is a necessary requirement to win elections. I'll wait a bit before accepting to give others a chance to answer.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 15:49
  • 1
    @gerrit - I would be hard pressed to find a candidate who won a general election without raising big dough. It's not right or wrong, it just is :)
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 15:52
  • If you're talking about US presidential elections, indeed. Probably as well for congress and for senators. The situation is different for e.g. parliamentary elections in European countries, where proportional representation can get grassroots political parties into parliament where they then have a platform without needing money to get access to media.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 16:03
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    There's a serious logical fallacy here. In a PRIMARY all the candidates are competing for the same money pool - republican or democratic donors. In the general election there's little internal competition, the republican donors will give money to the republican candidate and vice versa. The billion dollars spent wasn't contributions to the individual candidates, a lot of that was party money as well.
    – JNK
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 19:13

The UK provides certain services to nominated candidates, paid for from the general fund of the country ("taxpayer's money" if you will; I'm trying to avoid overly emotive language).

In particular (because it's the expensive one), anyone nominated in an election for Member of Parliament is entitled to have one piece of political literature delivered free of charge to every elector in their constituency. They have to produce the election communication themselves, and deliver the bundles to the Royal Mail, who then deliver it to the electors. The Royal Mail is paid for this delivery from the UK Government's General Fund.

Candidates have always been obliged to pay a deposit, which is returned to them if they get more than 5% of the vote. In the 1980s, the deposit was £50, because it hadn't been changed since it was introduced in 1948. In one election, the owner of a take-away delivery restaurant (I believe it was a pizza place, but I've not been able to find a citation) and used the free delivery to send out an advertisement for his business.

The deposit was then raised to £500 as disincentive for this exploitation of the political process for commercial purposes.

Note that the vast majority of candidates from major political parties do get 5% of the vote and get their deposit refunded, while unserious candidates are £500 out of pocket, which fees approximately pay for their election communications.

  • Given that (at least in US) political elected career is the shortest path to riches (take a look at how much every long-time member of Congress is worth, no matter how much they had when they got elected; and especially at how much they make AFTER they leave office), one could argue that it's a lot more ethical for a pizza place owner to communicate that way than for an aspiring "public servant" :)
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 14:14

One reason is to stop people who aren't running as serious politicians.

Given that politics in the broadest sense, that is engaging in public life towards collective ends is one of the highest goods, it can be argued that it should be made as widely available as possible and this suggests that there should be no financial penalties associated with it. In fact, this is the reason why communism argues that the economy should be democratised - after all, it engages most of our waking life.

For those people who are uncomfortable with communism, I would also add, that it is in the best traditions of Republicanism, if by this we mean what is understood as a republic as in Plato's Republic and not the Republican party as it is currently constituted.

In toto - it's in the better interests of humanity, and in the humanity of humanity itself.

  • Most of your post argues why there shouldn't be financial barriers.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 7:24
  • @gerrit: I think the first sentence is obvious enough without expanding upon it. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 7:29

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