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Fairness Doctrine

A broadcast media regulation that requires a broadcaster that airs a controversial program to also provide airtime to people with an opposing view.

Faithless Elector

An elector who votes for someone other than the candidate winning the most votes in his/her state.

Farley File

The common practice of politicians keeping a log of people they have met. log kept by politicians on people they have met previously. The practice is named after James Aloysius Farley, who was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager and later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley kept a file on anyone Roosevelt met allowing him to “remember” key personal details such as the name of their spouse and children or anything useful which might have come out of earlier meetings.

Favorite Son

A politician who is mainly favored in their home state or district but who has little electoral appeal in other areas. The term can also refer to a candidate who holds a state’s votes at a national party convention for the purposes of later brokering a spot for himself on the national ticket or becoming a compromise candidate.

FEC Commissioner

One of six appointees who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to lead the Federal Election Commission. No more than three commissioners may belong to the same political party, which has resulted in an even split among commissioners (three Democrat, three Republican) since the FEC’s creation. The commissioners hold public meetings where they adopt new regulations and issue advisory opinions. Pending enforcement actions and litigation are discussed in closed-door meetings. Commissioners are limited to one six-year term, although some continue to serve after their terms have expired if no one else is appointed to replace them.

FEC Identification Number

Number assigned to a committee upon registration with the FEC. Used for identification purposes with the FEC only, this number is not a taxpayer identification number.

Federal Election Activity

Activity by state, district and local party committees, which may be paid for with federal, or a combination of federal and Levin funds. The four types of federal election activity are as follows:

  • Voter registration activity during the period 120 days before a primary or general election and ending on election day itself; Voter identification, get-out-the-vote and generic campaign activity conducted in connection with an election in which a federal candidate appears on the ballot;
  • A public communication that refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office and that promotes, attacks, supports or opposes any candidate for federal office. The communication does not need to expressly advocate the election or defeat of the federal candidate to qualify as federal election activity; and
  • Services provided during a month by an employee of a state, district or local party committee who spends more than 25 percent of his or her compensated time during that month on activities in connection with a federal election including FEA.

Federal Election Campaign Act

The 1971 law that is the basis of all modern campaign finance regulations. It was amended in 1974, 1976, 1979 and, most recently, 2002. The law requires full, timely disclosure of federal campaign contributions. It prohibits unions and corporations from using general treasury funds to influence federal elections, but allows them to solicit voluntary contributions from members, employees and stockholders through political action committees (PACs). Following the campaign finance abuses of the 1972 presidential race, the law was amended in 1974 to provide the option of public financing for presidential elections, and to set contribution limits for individuals and PACs. The 1974 amendments set spending limits for candidates, although this provision was later struck down by the Supreme Court as an infringement on free speech. The 1974 amendments also created the Federal Election Commission to enforce and administer campaign finance regulations. See also Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and Buckley v. Valeo.

Federal Election Commission

The independent regulatory agency responsible for the civil enforcement and administration of the campaign finance law. Federal candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives, the presidency or the vice presidency must file quarterly reports with the FEC disclosing contributions and expenditures. Contributions and expenditures must be itemized if they amount to more than $200. U.S. Senate candidates file with the Secretary of the Senate, which then forwards the reports to the FEC. The agency regulates public financing of presidential campaigns and can seek fines against campaigns that violate campaign finance laws. See also FEC Commissioner

Federal Funds

Funds raised by a federal candidate, party, or political action committee that comply with the limits, prohibitions, and reporting requirements of federal law to finance a federal campaign. Also called “permissible funds” or “hard money.” See also Hard Money.

Federal Government Contractor

A person who enters into a contract, or is bidding on such a contract, with any agency or department of the US government and is paid, or to be paid, for services, material, equipment, supplies, land or buildings with funds appropriated by Congress.

Federal Officeholder

An individual elected to or serving in the office of President or Vice President of the United States, or a Senator or Representative in, or a Delegate or Resident Commissioner, to the Congress of the United States.

Federal Register

A federal publication that lists all executive orders, legislation passed by Congress, and proposed regulations by federal agencies.

Fence Mending

The actions an elected official will make to repair relationships with constituents after making an unpopular vote or action. The term originated in 1879, when Sen. John Sherman (R-OH) made a speech in which he said, “I have come home to look after my fences.” Though Sherman may have literally meant he was going to repair fences on his farm, the line was widely interpreted to mean that he had come with a political motive and rebuild support in the coming elections.

Fifth Column

A treasonous group who secretly undermine a nation from within. The term was coined by the Nationalist General Emilio Mola Vidal during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). As four of his army columns moved on Madrid, he referred to his militant supporters within the capital as a “fifth column,” who weakened the loyalist government with a campaign of sabotage and uprisings.


An informal term for any attempt to block or delay U.S. Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.


A report, designation or statement submitted to the FEC or Secretary of the Senate by a candidate, committee or other entity. Required filings include declarations of candidacy and committee reports of the money they receive and spend. See also Reports, designations and statements.


Political jargon for fundraising.

Finance Committee

A group of candidate supporters who work together to solicit donations for a candidate’s election.

Financially Competitive

An unofficial but important term used by election-watchers to refer to a candidate who has at least half as much campaign money as her or his competitor.


The process of identifying contributors by determining their addresses, occupations, employers, economic interests, political and ideological affiliations, spouses and children who may have contributed.

Firehouse Primary

A primary to select candidates what is run by a political party and not the state. It allows the party to keep control of the nominating process while allowing more participation than a party caucus, and is similar to a party canvass. Participants generally arrive at multiple polling places anytime during announced polling hours, cast a secret ballot, and then leave.

Fishing Expedition

An open-ended investigation with no defined purpose, usually launched by one party seeking damaging information about another. These inquiries are compared to fishing because they pull up whatever they happen to catch.

Flake Rate

The percentage of people who volunteer with a campaign to canvass or phone bank and then don’t show up. The phrase is used a measure of complacency of a candidate’s supporters.


A sudden reversal of opinion or policy by a politician, usually running for office. The term originated in 1888 when a New York Tribune writer said President Grover Cleveland had made a “Fisheries flip-flop.” This presumably refers to a fishery treaty between America and Canada and was a play on words given how fish “flip” and “flop” when caught.


A minimum or set amount of public financing or other public resources (e.g., free media or postage) available to all eligible candidates.

Follow the Money

Originally, the phrase is said to have been used by “Deep Throat” to tell reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein how to find out who was behind the 1972 Watergate break-in. Now used as an expression indicating that one needs to look at the sources of elected officials’ campaign contributions in order to understand the interests in which public policy is made.

Foreign National

An individual who is not a citizen of the United States or a national of the United States and has not been lawfully admitted to the U.S. for permanent residence, as defined in 8 U.S.C.§1101(a)(20); or (2) a foreign principal, as defined in 22 U.S.C.§611(b).

Fourth Estate

A term applied to the media, especially with regards to their role in the political process. The phrase has its origins in the French Revolution, where the church, nobility and commoners comprised the first, second, and third estates. The media was first called the fourth estate in 1821 by an essayist who wanted to point out the press’ power.

Franking Privilege

The right of members of Congress to send official, non-campaign correspondence to constituents without having to pay postage. A copy of the member’s signature replaces the stamp on the envelope. Authentic signatures of famous individuals are valuable collectors’ items.

Free Rider

A person who benefits from an interest group’s efforts without actually contributing to those efforts.

Friends-Asking-Friends Fundraising

The act of soliciting nonprofit donations directly from one’s online contacts using web-based tools like CrimsonRPM, email or social networks. Generally, social media tools and peer-to-peer fundraising software facilitate this fundraising method. Often the peer-to-peer fundraising software is provided by the nonprofit to their supporters to enable them to solicit donations for that nonprofit via the web.


The tendency, which has become more marked in recent years, for states to move their primaries and caucuses forward, in an attempt to be among the first states holding a nominating contest.

State authorities believe that coming at the front of the queue increases their influence on the nomination process. However, if too many states hold their contests in a short space of time, critics argue, candidates are unable to connect with voters in each individual state. A side-effect is that the process starts earlier in the year and is drawn out over a longer period.

Front-porch Campaign

A low-key campaign in which the candidate remains close to home and gives speeches but largely does not travel or otherwise actively campaign.


The candidate perceived to be in the lead in an election campaign.


An unethical fundraising tactic where a telemarketer falsely claims to be a researcher conducting a poll, when in reality the “researcher” is attempting to solicit a donation.

Full Ginsburg

Refers to an appearance by one person on all five major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, State of the Union on CNN and Fox News Sunday. The term is named for William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer during the Clinton scandal, who was the first person to accomplish this feat, on February 1, 1998.

Full Public Financing

An arrangement under which all campaign funds used by candidates come from the government and none are from private sources.


Act or process of raising money for a political organization.

Fundraising Expense

An expense incurred when soliciting contributions.