A BRIEF HISTORY OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM
I. FEDERAL ELECTIONS
FECA – Federal Elections Campaign Act – Congress – 1975
- Established contribution limits to federal candidates (to each candidate: $1,000 per person in primary; $1,000 per person in general election).
- Prohibited corporations and unions from giving (individuals only).
- Allowed PACs (political action committees) for corporations and unions to give to each candidate ($5,000 limit in primary; $5,000 in general election).
- Mandated public disclosure of all fundraising and spending.
- Created FEC (Federal Elections Commission) to administer law.
- Established spending limits for candidates.
- Presidential Public Financing
BUCKLEY v. VALEO – Supreme Court Decision – 1976
- Struck down spending limits of FECA on grounds of limits on free speech (candidates spending money was exercise of their right to free speech).
BCRA — Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold) – 2002
- Doubled the limit on individual contributions to candidates (hard money).
- Limited previously unlimited contributions to parties (soft money).
II. STATE AND CITY PUBLIC FINANCING
A) FULL PUBLIC FINANCING
Qualifying requirements typically state:
- Candidates must show support in their own district by collecting a specified number of $5 contributions.
- Contributions are not retained by candidates but go into Fair Elections Fund.
- Candidates may not use any private funds (including their own money).
- Stringent reporting requirements on spending of public money.
Full public financing systems won by grassroots movements in:
- Arizona: All statewide and legislative races; approved 1998.
- Connecticut: All statewide and legislative races; approved 2005.
- Maine: All statewide and legislative races; approved 1996.
- New Mexico: Public regulation commission-2003; Judicial elections-2005.
- Carolina: Judicial elections (2002); selected statewide races pilot (2007).
- Albuquerque, MN: City races; approved 2005.
- Wisconsin: Judicial Races, approved 2009.
- Seattle Honest Elections vouchers – 2015
B) PARTIAL PUBLIC FINANCING – SMALL-DONOR MATCHING SYSTEMS
- Donations to candidates matched with public funds
- New York City system – established 1988
- Limits on donations to candidates
- Provides $6 for every $1 raised by candidate up to $175
- Mandatory debates for publicly financed candidates
III. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
- 1975 FECA passed public financing for Presidential primary and general election.
- Qualified Presidential candidates may receive matching public funding in primary and full funding in general.
- Candidates receiving public funds must limit their total spending in both primary and general elections.
- All major presidential candidates from both parties accepted public funding in both primary and general elections until 2000 when George W. Bush was first to refuse public financing in the primary. Since 2012 no major candidate has accepted public financing, since with private donations they could vastly outraise the millions of dollars offered by the system.
- New legislation to reform Presidential system by increasing funding to candidates is now being considered.
IV. RECENT SUPREME COURT ACTIONS
- Citizens United, Jan 21, 2010 repealed long-standing ban on unlimited corporate and union spending on political speech. Resulted in Super-PACS spending millions (unlimited) on influencing elections (but not on direct giving to candidates).
- McCutcheon 2013, raised the aggregate total a single individual can donate in one election cycle from $123,200 to $3.5 million.
V. Super PACS
- Independent-expenditure only political action committees
- Raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as individuals.
- Required to disclose their donors, just like traditional PACs; however, many exploit a technicality in order to avoid doing so.
- Super PACs can and do openly support particular candidacies.
- Cannot give directly to candidates
- “Dark Money” – 501c4 – promote public welfare (can include lobbying and influencing political campaigns) no disclosure
VI. “Defend Democracy” Congressional Bills*
- Democracy for All Amendment – calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United and other Court restrictions on campaign finance reform.
- Government by the People Act – establishing a voluntary small donor public financing matching system for House of Representatives candidates.**
- Fair Elections Now Act – creating a voluntary public financing matching system for US Senate candidates.
- Disclose Act – requiring disclosure from ALL groups spending on national election campaigns.
VII. Local Resolutions for Campaign Finance Reform
- Public Financing; Amend the Constitution; End Corruption