Federal Election Campaign Act

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The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA, Pub.L. 92–225, 86 Stat. 3, enacted February 7, 1972, 2 U.S.C. § 431 et seq.) is a United States federal law which increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. It was amended in 1974 to place legal limits on the campaign contributions. The amendment also created the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

It was amended again in 1976, in response to the provisions ruled unconstitutional by Buckley v. Valeo and again in 1979 to allow parties to spend unlimited amounts of hard money on activities like increasing voter turnout and registration. In 1979, the Commission ruled that political parties could spend unregulated or "soft" money for non-federal administrative and party building activities. Later, this money was used for candidate-related issue ads, which led to a substantial increase in soft money contributions and expenditures in elections. This in turn created political pressures leading to passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ("BCRA"), banning soft money expenditure by parties. Some of the legal limits on giving of "hard money" were also changed by BCRA.

FECA also requires campaigns and political committees to report the names, addresses, and occupations of donors of $200 or more.

The FECA contains an express preemption clause. The FECA expressly preempts state and federal law with respect to federal elections.

History[edit]

As early as 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asserted the need for campaign finance reform and called for legislation to ban corporate contributions for political purposes. In response, the United States Congress enacted the Tillman Act of 1907, named for its sponsor Senator Benjamin Tillman, banning corporate contributions. Further regulation followed in the Federal Corrupt Practices Act enacted in 1910, and subsequent amendments in 1910 and 1925, the Hatch Act, the Smith-Connally Act of 1943, and the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. These Acts sought to:

  • Limit the influence of wealthy individuals and special interest groups on the outcome of federal elections;
  • Regulate spending in campaigns for federal office; and
  • Deter abuses by mandating public disclosure of campaign finances.

In 1971, Congress consolidated its earlier reform efforts in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), instituting more stringent disclosure requirements for federal candidates, political parties and Political action committees (PACs). Still, without a central administrative authority, the campaign finance laws were difficult to enforce.

Government subsidies for federal elections, originally proposed by President Roosevelt in 1907, began to take shape as part of the 1971 law, as Congress established the income tax checkoff to provide for the financing of Presidential general election campaigns and national party conventions. Amendments to the Internal Revenue Code in 1974 established the matching fund program for Presidential primary campaigns.

Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. The 1974 amendments also established an independent agency, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to enforce the law, facilitate disclosure and administer the public funding program. The FEC opened its doors in 1975 and administered the first publicly funded Presidential election in 1976.

The Supreme Court struck down or narrowed several provisions of the 1974 amendments to the Act, including limits on spending and limits on the amount of money a candidate could donate to his or her own campaign in Buckley v. Valeo (1976).

Congress made further amendments to the FECA in 1976 following those decisions; major amendments were also made in 1979 to streamline the disclosure process and expand the role of political parties.

In 2002, Congress made major revisions to the FECA in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, more commonly referred to as "McCain-Feingold." However, major portions of McCain-Feingold were struck down by the Supreme Court on Constitutional grounds in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (2007), Davis v. Federal Election Commission (2008) and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). The Citizens United ruling also struck down FECA's complete ban on corporate and union independent spending, originally passed as part of the Taft-Hartley law in 1947.

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