Campaign Finance Reform

Historical Timeline

Victor W. Geraci, PhD


DATE             EVENT                                     DESCRIPTION

1757                  George Washington                    Washington was charged with a kind of campaign spending irregularity

                                                                                in his race for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Said to have

                                                                                purchased and distributed during the campaign more than a quart of

                                                                                rum, beer, and hard cider per voter (391 voters in the district).

1828                  Kentucky Governor's Race        A Candidate solicited donations of $5,000 to $10,000.

1828                  Professional Campaign              Practice of Professional Campaign Managers begins.

1838                  New York Mayor's Race            Vote buying --- As much as $22 was being paid for an uncommitted


1864                  President Abraham Lincoln       Warns of "a crisis approaching" in a 21 November Letter… "As a result

                                                                                 of the war, corporations have become enthroned, and an era of

                                                                                corruption in high places will follow. The money power of the country

                                                                                will endeavor to prolong its rule by preying upon the prejudices of the

                                                                                people until all wealth is concentrated in few hands and the Republic is



1867                  Naval Appropriations Bill          First federal effort to regulate campaign finance. Aimed to stop the

                                                                                practice of shaking down naval yard workers of political donations.

1876                  The Golden Age of Boodle         Historian George Thayer nicknamed the era ( Gilded Age) filled with

                                                                                political corruption, Tammy hall, Boss Tweed.  Mark Twain "I think I

                                                                                can say, and say with pride, that we have legislatures that bring high

                                                                                prices than any in the world."

1883                  Civil Service Reform Act            aka Pendleton Act.  Applied the Naval Appropriation Act to all

                                                                                government workers.

1896                  Election                                        Watershed for Campaign Finance … set the record for expenditures,

                                                                                unsurpassed for the next quarter century.  McKinley = $7 million, Bryan

                                                                                 = $650,000…Marcus Alonzo Hanna, Ohio businessman and  chairman

                                                                                of the Republican national Committee, introduced the practice of

                                                                                regularly assessing businesses for campaign contributions, and began the

                                                                                 practices of political advertising, regular press releases, speakers,

                                                                                posters, buttons, and billboards.   300,000 flyers in 9 different languages.


1905                President Roosevelt Calls          President Theodore Roosevelt argued for a ban on all political

              for Reform                                    contributions by corporations. Also proposed a public financing system

                                                                                for all federal candidates.

1907                  Tillman Act                                  President Theodore Roosevelt called for public financing of federal

                                                                                candidates via political parties and congress responded with the Act to

                                                                                ban bank and corporate giving.  The ban was largely ignored.

  910                   Federal Corrupt Practices Act   First comprehensive reform measure. Established the first disclosure

                                                                                requirements for federal candidates and limited the spending by House

                                                                                and Senate candidates.

1913                  17th Amendment                         Direct election of Senators. Expansion of the Electorate and importance

                                                                                 of the common voter to the overall process; thus, requiring more

                                                                                campaign financing.

1920                  19th Amendment                         Women's Suffrage. Expansion of the Electorate and importance of the

                                                                                common voter to the overall process; thus, requiring more campaign


1924                  Democratic Party Campaign     The Party campaign plank sponsored by William Jennings Bryan, called

                                                                                for federal candidates to be furnished "reasonable means of publicity at

                                                                                public expense."

1925           Amendment to Federal Corrupt Served as the basic campaign finance act until 1971. Act was devoid of

                Practices Act                                  any enforcement procedures.  Strengthen the disclosure requirements

                                                                                and caps spending.  President LBJ referred to the law as "more

                                                                                loophole than law."

1935                  Hatch Act                                     Congress prohibited contributions to federal candidates from federal

                                                                                workers and contractors and limited individual contributions to $5,000

                                                                                per year.

1936                  Labor Contributions to              CIO president John L. Lewis contributes $500,000 to the Democratic

                Campaigns                                     Party.

1943                  Smith-Connally Act                    Prohibited Labor Unions drom directly contributing money to federal


1944                  CIO first PAC                             In response to the Smith-Connally Act the CIO formed the first Political

                                                                                 Action committee (PAC) funded through voluntary contributions and

                                                                                not union treasury funds.

1947                  Taft-Hartley Act                          Permanent ban on contributions to federal candidates from unions,

                                                                                corporations, and interstate banks.

1950                  Electronic Campaigning             Between 1956 and 1968 campaign spending doubles from $155 million

                                                                                to over $300 million as outlays for broadcast media increased six fold,

                                                                                from $10 million to $60 million.

1968                  Campaign Contributions            8 percent of the voting population gave contributions to local, state, and

                                                                                federal candidates.

1971                  FECA                                           Federal Elections Campaign Act - Congress passes the act to set limits on and require disclosure of spending by candidates

for federal offices and provides for financing for Presidential campaigns. Required full and timely disclosures, limited some contributions, capped spending, and permitted unions and corporations to form PACs.

1971                  Revenue Act                                Established the public financing system for qualifying presidential

                                                                                candidates paid for by the voluntary $1.00 check off on income tax

                                                                                forms.  Also provided $50.00 tax deduction for individual contributions

                                                                                (ended 1978) or $12.50 tax credit9 raised to $50.00 in 1978 and

                                                                                eliminated in 1986).

1972                  Watergate Election                      President Richard Nixon's reelection committee received million of

                                                                                dollars in secret.  IE Robert Vesco ($200,000 in a briefcase), Howard

                                                                                Hughes ($100,000 in a safe deposit box), Clement Stone ($2 million), 13

                                                                                corporations $780,000 in illegal corporate contributions.

1974                  Federal Election Commission     FECA - After the Nixon Watergate scandal Congress creates the

                                                                                commission to enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act provisions.

                                                                                Create $1,000 individual contribution limit and a $5,000 PAC limit.


1976                  Buckley v. Valeo                          424 US 1 Supreme Court ruling that mandatory spending limits violate

                                                                                free speech mandates.

1976                  FECA Amendments                   Congress enacts new amendments to FECA to comply with Buckley v.


1978                  General Election Spending         General election totals equal $153.5 million.

1979                  FECA Amendments                   Package of amendments to the election campaign act allows the use of

                                                                                donations to political parties rather than candidates. First time Congress

                                                                                enacted reform.

1980                  General Election Spending         General election spending totals $192.1 million.

1985                  FEC v. National Conservative   470 US 480  NCPAC extended Buckley's ruling that independent

                                                                                expenditures could not be limited.

1986                  Bills Killed                                    The US Senate votes twice in favor of strict controls for campaign

                                                                                fundraising but bipartisan maneuvers do not allow the bills to come up

                                                                                for a  vote.

1986                  General Election Spending         General election Spending reaches $400.9 million.

1988                  General Election Spending         General Election Spending reaches $408.3 million.

1988                  Legislative and Legal Setbacks  A proposal for limiting overall Campaign spending by candidates is

                                                                                shelved after a Republican Filibuster. A constitutional amendment to

                                                                                override the Supreme Court decision fails to get off the ground.

1990                  Austin v. Michigan State            494 US 652. Austin affirmed the constitutionality of a ban on campaign

                Chamber of Commerce                spending by business corporations or other corporations other than

                                                                                purely non-profit.

1990                  General Election Spending         General Election Spending reaches $403.7 million.

1990                  More legislative Failure              The House and Senate approve voluntary spending limits and

                                                                                restrictions on political action committees. Conferees fail to  resolve

                                                                                differences and bill never sent to President Bush.

1992                  Bush Vetoes Campaign              President Bush vetoed a bill providing partial public financing for

                Limits Bill                                       congressional candidates who abide by voluntary fund-raising ceilings

                                                                                and baring soft money contributions to Presidential candidates.  Senate

                                                                                fails to override the veto.

1992                  Campaign Contributions            4 percent of the voting population gave contributions to local, state, and

                                                                                federal candidates. 80 percent of all congressional campaign money

                                                                                donated by PACs and individuals giving $200 or more.

1992                  General Election Spending         General Election Spending reaches $528.6 million.

1994                  General Election Spending         General Election Spending reaches $616.2 million

1994                  More Bills Blocked                      Republicans again block a bill setting spending limits and authorizing

                                                                                partial public financing of congressional elections.

1996                  General Election Spending         General Election Spending reaches $650.8 million.

1996                  More Bills Fail                             Bipartisan legislation for voluntary spending limits with rewards for

                                                                                those who comply and baring soft money is killed by a Republican


1997                  Bill Fails                                       McCain- Feingold bipartisan bill to close soft money and TV advertising

                                                                                expenditures runs afoul of a Republican filibuster. Senate sets March

                                                                                1998 deadline for another vote on the bill.

1999                  Campaign Integrity Act              Asa Hutchinson (R - Arkansas) Bill to ban soft money and raise hard

               HR:1867                                       money limits.

1999                  Campaign Reform and Election Sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas (R - CA) includes a ban on foreign

               Integrity Act                                money and reforms the FEC.

1999                  Citizen Legislature & Political   HR 1922 sponsored by Rep. John Doolittle (R - CA) to repeal all

               Freedom Act                                federal election contribution limits and expedite and expand disclosure.

1999                  HR: 417 Campaign Reform Act Shays-Meehan Bill, sponsored by Christopher Shays (R - CT) and

                                                                                Martin Meehan (D - MA) to ban soft money and limit types of

                                                                                campaign advertising.


2002                Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act  Sponsored by Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and John McCain (R-AZ).

                                                                                    Revised some of the legal limits of expenditure set in 1974, and prohibited

                                                                                    unregulated contributions (called "soft money") to national political parties.

                                                                                    Also defined political ads as "electioneering communications" prohibiting any

                                                                                    such ad paid for by a corporation or paid for by an unincorporated entity using

                                                                                    any corporate or union funds


2003                Supreme Court Upholds BCRA      A divided Supreme Court upholds the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which

had been challenged by both parties. The decision preserved the soft money ban and restrictions on political ads, which were the most significant parts of the law.


2006                U.S. Supreme Court Decision          Certain advertisements might be constitutionally entitled to an exception from the

              Right to Life v. FEC                         electioneering communications' provisions of McCain-Feingold.  The Court

                                                                                    established a broad exemption for any ad that could have a reasonable

                                                                                    interpretation as an ad about legislative issues.


2006                Randall v. Sorrell                              The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Vermont's law, the strictest in the                                                                                   nation which placed a cap on financial donations made to politicians,                                                                                                            unconstitutionally hindered the citizens' First Amendment right to free speech. A                                                                                            key issue in the case was the 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo, which many justices felt

                                                                                    needed to be revisited


2007                BCRA Loosens                                  The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that advocacy groups financed by

unions or corporate money could not be barred from running ads in the month

before             a primary and the two months preceding a general election. The court gave greater latitude to what an issue ad could say


2012                Citizens United v. FEC                     The ruling allows corporations and unions to advocate for or against candidates at

any time. Two months later, in v. FEC, an appeals court strikes

down limits on contributions to independent-expenditure shops. The super-PAC is