Campaign Finance Reform
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
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
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
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
1936 Labor Contributions to CIO president John L. Lewis contributes $500,000 to the Democratic
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
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
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
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
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 Speechnow.org v. FEC, an appeals court strikes
down limits on contributions to independent-expenditure shops. The super-PAC is