Federal Election Campaign Act

Federal Election Campaign Act

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA, USStatute|92|225|86|3|1972|02|07, USC|2|431 "et seq.") is a United States federal law which increased disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns, and 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 in by BCRA.

As important as transparency is to the election process, an unintended consequence of this transparency is that some potential donors feel that publication of their donation could have a negative effect on the donor, particularly with respect to their employment. A donor's name, address, and place of employment is considered public information and donor lists are widely available on the internet. Some potential donors have chosen not to make a donation out of fear their employer may find out about the donation and either withhold a raise, promotion, or outright fire the person. In general, employers can fire at will, and if the employer does not explain that the firing is due to the political persuasion of the employee, proving any kind of discrimination would be impossible. Fear of this kind of retaliation effectively shuts many out of making financial contributions to support a candidate. Campaigns are not legally required to report donations totalling under $200 but may do so; some have proposed that the limit should be raised to $500 or $1000 and that campaigns would not report donations from an individual until the total exceeds the established limit during an election cycle.

Major provisions

The major provisions of the 1971 Act and the 1974 amendment. Note that some provisions, including legal limits of contributions, have been modified by subsequent Acts.

*Requirement for candidates to disclose sources of campaign contributions and campaign expenditure.
*Federal Election Commission created.
*Public funding available for Presidential primaries and general elections. Legal limits on campaign expenditure for those that accept public funding.
*Legal limits on campaign contributions by individuals and organizations (See table).
**Donations directly from Corporations, Labor Organizations and National Banks
**Donations from Government Contractors
**Donations from Foreign Nationals
**Cash Contributions over $100
**Contributions in the Name of Another

Contribution Limits

The FECA placed limits on contributions by individuals and groups to candidates, party committees and PACs. The chart below shows how the original limits applied to the various participants in federal elections. It should be noted that many of these limits were later changed as part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act:


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, in 1907 the United States Congress enacted the Tillman Act, named for Senator Benjamin Tillman, banning corporate contributions. Several other statutes followed between 1907 and 1966 which, taken together, sought to:

* Limit the disproportionate 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.

Public funding of 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.

Public perception of the corruption of the political process because of soft money lead to the next set of major amendments, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA). Among other things, the BCRA banned national parties from raising or spending soft money, restricted broadcast issue ads that mentioned candidates within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election, increased the contribution limits, and indexed certain limits for inflation.

See also

*Campaign finance in the United States
*Campaign finance
*Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
*Federal Election Commission
*Buckley v. Valeo
*McConnell v. Federal Election Commission

External links

* [http://www.campaignfreedom.org Center for Competitive Politics]
* [http://www.PoliticalMoneyLine.com/ PoliticalMoneyLine]
* [http://www.fec.gov Federal Election Commission] web site (fec.gov)
* [http://www.congress.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&dbname=cp106&&r_n=hr756.106&sel=TOC_315131& Text of original Act]
* [http://www.realcampaignreform.org/ REAL Campaign Reform.org]
* [http://www.fec.gov/law/feca/feca.pdf Federal Election Campaign Laws]

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