Federal Election Campaign Act

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Federal Election Campaign Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titlesCampaign Finance Act
Long titleAn Act to promote fair practices in the conduct of election campaigns for Federal political offices, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial)FECA
NicknamesFederal Election Campaign Act of 1971
Enacted bythe 92nd United States Congress
EffectiveApril 7, 1972
Public law92-225
Statutes at Large86 Stat. 3
Titles amended2 U.S.C.: Congress
U.S.C. sections created2 U.S.C. ch. 14 § 431 et seq.
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 382 by John O. Pastore (D-RI) on May 6, 1971
  • Committee consideration by Senate Finance
  • Passed the Senate on August 5, 1971 (88-2)
  • Passed the House on November 30, 1971 (372-23, in lieu of H.R. 11060)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on December 1, 1971; agreed to by the Senate on December 14, 1971 (Agreed, in lieu of S.Rept. 92–580) and by the House on January 19, 1972 (334-20, in lieu of H.Rept. 92–752)
  • Signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on February 7, 1972

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.[1]

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.[2]

Amendments to 1971 act[edit]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law

External links[edit]