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Hard money is also used to describe a physical currency, such as coins made of precious metals like gold, silver or platinum or coins in circulation whose value is directly linked to the value of a specific commodity.
1. In politics, the term hard money means money donated directly to a politician or political action committee. Hard money contributions have a number of limitations and regulations, including how much you can contribute and how it is used. By comparison, contributions to political parties that do not have the same limits and controls are often called soft money contributions. So while an individual can donate up to $2,700 in hard money per election to a specific candidate (in 2018), he or she could donate an unlimited amount to a political party, which can then be redirected to multiple candidates.
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I’m afraid you are wrong about IP status. Being an IP means precisely and only that you are allowed to have the “ultimate responsibility” in a funding application. Even at universities, PI status and soft vs. hard funding are determined independently. Some soft money items may be PI, but some hard money items may not.
In another post, I just gave the example of [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)] (http://www.whoi.edu/), whose tenure track and tenured faculty are based mostly or entirely on soft money. They use a risk-sharing system with bridge funding to reduce risk. Regarding the specific issue of leaving: it happens often, and funding often follows the PI to their new institution.
@jakebeal as far as I know, tenure refers to faculty and professors, not investigators. Still, I tried looking for this information on your site and couldn’t find, searching your site for “tenure” didn’t produce usable results either. For now, I will edit the question, as I could imagine the situation you describe.
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In the simplest terms, “hard money” comes from political donations that are regulated by law through the Federal Election Commission. Soft money” is money that is donated to political parties in a way that leaves the contribution unregulated. The difference comes down to a few crucial words and an administrative decision.
Because soft money is not regulated by election laws, corporations, unions and individuals can make donations in any amount to a political party for the purpose of “party building.” Party building can include ads that educate voters about issues, as long as the ads do not take the crucial step of telling voters which candidates to vote for. For example:
Candidate X runs an ad that says, “I am a good person. Candidate Y is a bad person. Vote for me on Election Day.” Because of the “Vote for me…” part, this is a political ad, which must be paid for with “hard money”.
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In particular, I don’t think the UCLA positions to which the question links are “time-limited” in any way detrimental. My reading is that once you reach the level of Investigator V or above, you can sit at that rank indefinitely. The time limits at the lower levels ensure that junior investigators will get periodic raises and titles that reflect their increased experience. There is no tenure in this career at UCLA; there is periodic review, but I assume it is not particularly severe (intended to make sure that people remain productive, not to weed out otherwise promising researchers). It’s certainly not a career path with the security or stability of a permanent position, but other than that, it seems quite reasonable.
It varies greatly between fields and departments. In medicine, soft money positions are fairly common and can be prestigious and relatively secure. In mathematics, very few people are funded entirely by grants. In computer science, it’s somewhere in the middle.