1867: Naval Appropriations Bill
The first federal attempt to regulate campaign finance. Prohibited officers and employees of the government from soliciting money from naval yard workers.
1883: Civil Service Reform Act
Extended the above rule to all federal civil service workers. Previously, government workers were expected to make campaign contributions in order to keep their jobs.
1905: Teddy Roosevelt’s Message to Congress
President Theodore Roosevelt proposed that “(a)ll contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.” The proposal, however, included no restrictions on campaign contributions from the people who owned and ran corporations. Roosevelt also called for public financing of federal candidates via their political parties.
1907: Tillman Act
Prohibited corporations and nationally chartered (interstate) banks from making direct financial contributions to federal candidates. However, weak enforcement mechanisms made the Act unenforceable.
1910: Federal Corrupt Practices Act
Established disclosure requirements for U.S. House candidates. Legislation in 1911 extended requirements to cover U.S. Senate candidates and established expenditure limits for House and Senate campaigns. Lacking mechanisms for verification and enforcement, these measures proved meaningless.
1925: Federal Corrupt Practices Act (Revised)
Codified and revised previous campaign reform legislation regarding expenditure limits and disclosure. Served as basic federal campaign finance law until 1971. However, with power of enforcement vested in Congress, the Act was routinely ignored.
1940: Hatch Act Amendments
Set limit of $5,000 per year on individual contributions to a federal candidate or political committee (but it didn’t prevent contributors from giving that amount to multiple committees, each working for the same candidate). Made campaign finance regulations applicable to primaries as well as general elections. Barred contributions to federal candidates from individuals and businesses working for the federal government.
1943: Smith-Connally Act
Extended to unions the prohibition on contributions to federal candidates from corporations and interstate banks (following major increase, beginning in 1936, in labor’s use of union dues to support federal candidates).
1944: Formation of First PAC
First political action committee (PAC) was formed by Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1944 to raise money for reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Because PAC money came from voluntary contributions from union members, rather than from union treasuries (i.e., union dues), it was not prohibited by the Smith-Connally Act.
1947: Taft-Hartley Act
Made permanent the ban on contributions to federal candidates from unions, corporations, and interstate banks, and extended the prohibition to include primaries as well as general elections.
1967: House Campaign Finance Reports Collected for First Time
Former Congressman W. Pat Jennings was first Clerk of the House of Representatives to perform his duty under 1925 Corrupt Practices Act to collect campaign finance reports and to report violators. However, the Justice Department ignored his list of violators.
1971: Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)
Repealed Corrupt Practices Act and created comprehensive framework for regulation of federal campaign financing of primaries, runoffs, general elections, and conventions. Required full and timely disclosure. Set ceilings on media advertising. Established limits on contributions from candidates and their families. Permitted unions and corporations to solicit voluntary contributions from members, employees, and stockholders, and allowed union and corporate treasury money to be used for overhead in operating pacs.
1971: Revenue Act
Companion legislation to FECA. Created public campaign fund for eligible presidential candidates (starting with 1976 election) through provision of voluntary one-dollar check-off on federal income tax returns. Provided option of $50 tax deduction (for individual filers) for contributions to local, state, or federal candidates (provision eliminated in 1978) or $12.50 tax credit (amount raised to $50 in 1978, provision eliminated in 1986).
1974: FECA Amendments (Post-Watergate)
Provided option of full public financing for presidential general elections, matching funds for presidential primaries, and public funds for presidential nominating conventions. Set spending limits for presidential primaries and general elections, and for House and Senate primaries. Revised (previously unenforced) spending limits for House and Senate general elections. Created individual contribution limit of $1,000 to a candidate per election and pac contribution limit of $5,000 to a candidate per election (triggering pac boom of late ’70s). Limited aggregate individual contributions to $25,000 per year. Limited candidates’ personal contributions to their own campaigns. Limited independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate to $1,000 per election. Ended 1940 ban on contributions from individuals and groups working on government contracts. Abolished limits on media advertising. Created Federal Election Commission (FEC) to administer campaign law, with Congress to appoint four of six commissioners.
1976: Buckley v. Valeo
Restrictions in FECA (as amended in 1974) challenged as unconstitutional violations of free speech. Supreme Court upheld disclosure requirements, limits on individual contributions, and voluntary public financing, and affirmed President’s authority to appoint all six FEC commissioners. Court struck down, as infringement on free speech, limits on candidate expenditures (unless candidate accepts public financing), limits on contributions by candidates and their families to their own campaigns, and limits on “independent expenditures” (election spending not coordinated with candidates or their committees).
1976: FECA Amendments (following Buckley)
Brought FECA into conformity with Buckley decision. Limited individual contributions to national parties to $20,000 per year, and individual contributions to a pac to $5,000 per year.
1979: FECA Amendments
Increased amount volunteers could contribute in-kind (use of home, food, vehicle) from $500 to $1,000. Raised threshold for reporting contributions from $100 to $200. Effectively prohibited FEC from conducting random audits. Allowed state and local parties to promote federal candidates by spending unlimited amounts on campaign materials (signs, bumper stickers, etc.) used by volunteers and on voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.
March 27, 2002: Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002
The most sweeping campaign finance reform law in 30 years was signed into law. Beginning Nov. 6, soft money accounts held by national parties are abolished. The act also raises hard money limits and seeks to eliminate so-called issue advertising.
Source: The Center for Responsive Politics