Federal Election Campaign Act
This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (November 2012)
|Other short titles||Campaign Finance Act|
|Long title||An Act to promote fair practices in the conduct of election campaigns for Federal political offices, and for other purposes.|
|Nicknames||Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971|
|Enacted by||the 92nd United States Congress|
|Effective||April 7, 1972|
|Statutes at Large||86 Stat. 3|
|Titles amended||2 U.S.C.: Congress|
|U.S.C. sections created||2 U.S.C. ch. 14 § 431 et seq.|
The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA, Pub.L. 92–225, 86 Stat. 3, enacted February 7, 1972, 52 U.S.C. § 30101 et seq.) is the primary United States federal law regulating political campaign spending and fundraising. The law originally focused on increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns. The S. 382 legislation was passed by the 92nd U.S. Congressional session and signed by the 37th President of the United States Richard Nixon on February 7, 1972.
In 1974, the Act was amended to place legal limits on the campaign contributions and expenditures. The 1974 amendments also created the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
The Act was amended again in 1976, in response to the provisions ruled unconstitutional by Buckley v. Valeo, including the structure of the FEC and the limits on campaign expenditures, 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 FEC 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 led to passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA"), effective on January 1, 2003, banning soft money expenditure by parties. Some of the legal limits on giving of "hard money" were also changed by BCRA.
In addition to limiting the size of contributions to candidates and political parties, FECA also requires campaigns and political committees to report the names, addresses, and occupations of donors of more than $200.
The FECA contains an express preemption clause. The FECA expressly preempts state and federal law with respect to federal elections.
As early as 1905, 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 regulate corporate and union spending in campaigns for federal office, and mandated public disclosure of campaign donors.
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.
In 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court struck down several key provisions of the 1974 amendments to the Act, including limits on spending by candidate campaigns, limits on the ability of citizens to spend money independently of a campaign, and limits on the amount of money a candidate could donate to his or her own campaign. Buckley v. Valeo also substantially narrowed the category of independent political expenditures subject to mandatory donor disclosure.
Congress made further amendments to the FECA in 1976 to conform the law with the ruling in Buckley v. Valeo. 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.
Amendments to 1971 Act
U.S. Congressional amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.
|Date of Enactment||Public Law Number||U.S. Statute Citation||U.S. Legislative Bill||U.S. Presidential Administration|
|October 15, 1974||P.L. 93-443||88 Stat. 1263||S. 3044||Gerald R. Ford|
|May 11, 1976||P.L. 94-283||90 Stat. 475||S. 3065||Gerald R. Ford|
|October 12, 1977||P.L. 95-127||91 Stat. 1110||S. 1435||Jimmy E. Carter|
|January 8, 1980||P.L. 96-187||93 Stat. 1339||H.R. 5010||Jimmy E. Carter|
|May 29, 1980||P.L. 96-253||94 Stat. 398||S. 2648||Jimmy E. Carter|
|December 28, 1995||P.L. 104-79||109 Stat. 791||H.R. 2527||William J. Clinton|
|March 27, 2002||P.L. 107-155||116 Stat. 81||H.R. 2356||George W. Bush|
- Campaign finance in the United States
- Campaign finance
- Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
- Federal Election Commission
- Buckley v. Valeo
- McConnell v. Federal Election Commission
- Peters, Gerhard; Woolley, John T. "Richard Nixon: "Statement on Signing the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.," February 7, 1972". The American Presidency Project. University of California - Santa Barbara.
- The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law
- Text of original Act
- Federal Election Commission
- Federal Election Campaign Laws (pdf)
- RealCampaignReform.org - archived site links to various related court briefs and judicial opinions
- CQ MoneyLine - Congressional Quarterly campaign funding news site
- OpenSecrets.org - Center for Responsive Politics site for tracking campaign contributions and expenditures
- National Institute on Money in State Politics - information on money in state politics
- Campaign Legal Center - analysis and reviews on campaign finance, communication and ethics
- Public Campaign - organization advocating public funding of campaigns
- Common Cause - organization advocating campaign finance regulations
- Public Citizen - organization advocating campaign finance regulations
- Center for Competitive Politics - organization opposed to campaign finance regulations
- MapLight - organization that exposes money's influence on politics to promote political reform