It’s no secret that the landscape of campaign finance, and of money in politics in general, has shifted radically since our country was founded — and these changes have come fast and furious in recent years. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the need for candidates to have friends with money, and friends with friends with more money, in order to win.
Money often seems to be the biggest determinant of who gets elected to public office, and the price of winning a seat in Congress, let alone the presidency, has skyrocketed. The 2012 elections were the most expensive in history, with a price tag of about $6.3 billion. These days, the biggest contributions go to super PACs and politically active nonprofits that are supposed to act independently, but almost always are operating to benefit a political party or — increasingly — a single candidate.
In our timeline, we take a chronological look at how we got to this point in the financing of our electoral process, from the nation’s early days to the present. We begin at the beginning, with one unexpected fact.