Campaign Finance Regulation, 1907-2014
Date and “Actor”
Congress – 1907 Tillman Act
Bans contributions from national banks and corporations.
Congress – 1910 Publicity Act
Requires post-election disclosure of contributions and expenditures by some party committees.
Congress – 1911 Amendments to Publicity Act
Mandates disclosure for House and Senate campaigns and caps the amount they can spend.
Congress – 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act
Passed in response to the Teapot Dome scandal, requiring quarterly disclosure reports by all multicandidate political committees and raising spending limits.
Congress – 1939 Hatch Act
Extends prohibitions on political activity by federal civil service employees.
Congress – 1940 Amendments to Hatch Act
Imposes the first contribution caps: $5,000 per year on individual contributions to federal candidates and national party committees.
Congress – 1947 Taft Hartley Act
Prohibits labor unions from making campaign contributions drawn from their general treasuries and also prohibits corporations and unions from making direct expenditures in connection with either primary or general campaigns for public office.
Congress – 1971 Federal Elections Campaign Act (FECA)
Restricts campaign expenditures on media, limits candidate self-funding, and requires strict public disclosure of financial activity.
1972 -74 Watergate Scandals
Major political scandals in the US during the 1970’s that began with a break-in of DNC headquarters and the resulting conspiracy and cover up that led to a constitutional crisis and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Congress – 1974 FECA Amendments
Limits contributions to campaigns by individuals, parties, and political committees; imposes spending limits on presidential and congressional campaigns; strengthens disclosure requirements; and creates the Federal Election Commission to oversee compliance. The Amendments also create an opt-in public financing program for presidential campaigns.
SCOTUS – 1976 Buckley v. Valeo
Upholds the disclosure requirements, voluntary presidential public financing, and contribution limitations. The Court determines that campaign expenditures require heightened First Amendment protection and strikes down the expenditure limits. The Court also finds that the method of appointing the FEC is constitutionally flawed, although the agency is quickly reconstituted through acceptable means.
SCOTUS – 1978
First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti
Overturns prohibitions on corporate expenditures in issue elections (i.e. non-candidate campaigns such as initiative and referendums) as infringement of 1st Amendment.
SCOTUS – 1990 Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce
Upholds restrictions on corporate support or opposition to candidates based on the idea that “corporate wealth can unfairly influence elections.”
Congress – 2001 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA)
Bans “soft money” in campaign financing by closing the soft money loophole which allowed corporations, unions and individuals to make huge campaign contributions to political parties.
Bans “sham” issue ads which were campaign ads masquerading as lobbying on an issue.
Prohibits corporations and unions from using general treasury funds to make electioneering communications within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of general election.
Raises contribution limits for those running against a wealthy self-funded candidate.
SCOTUS – 2003 McConnell v. Federal Election Commission
Upholds much of BRCA including that government has a legitimate interest in preventing both “actual corruption and the appearance of corruption that might result from those contributions.”
Upholds limits on and regulation of electioneering communications.
SCOTUS – 2007 Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission
Overturns limits on electioneering communications by specific types of organizations.
SCOTUS – 2008 Davis v. Federal Election Commission
Overturns higher contribution limits for those opposing wealthy self-funded candidates, who are free to spend their own money without limit.
SCOTUS – 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
Upholds disclosure requirements in elections.
Affirms a corporation’s all forms of corporations – including non-profit organizations, trade associations and for-profit multi-national corporations -- as well as labor unions right to spend unlimited money independently in elections; (ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates remains).
Overturns limits on issue ads in BCRA while upholding disclosure of issue ad spending.
Various courts based on Citizens United decision
Creates legal framework for Super PAC.
Allows traditional PAC to merge with Super PAC – though PAC has contribution limits it can contribute directly to candidate.
Creates a Hybrid PAC.
SCOTUS – 2011 McComish v. Bennett
Overturns AZ law which granted additional public funds to a candidate being outspent by privately financed opponent or independent groups.
SCOTUS – 2014 McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
Overturns federal aggregate limits on campaign contributions to candidates, political parties and political committees.
With thanks to the Massachusetts and California Leagues for information contained in this chart