Campaign Finance Reform

Efforts to change the rules on how political campaigns can be paid for, with the aim of making them fairer

Campaign Finance Reform

For whatever position anyone can run for, campaigns are supposed to be fair. Fairness is the whole point of American democracy. So, what happens when something like money corrupts a campaign and American democracy?

That’s what campaign finance reforms are for. What are they, and how do they work? More so, how do they protect American democracy? This article is here to answer these questions and more.

What is Campaign Finance?

Campaign finance funds a candidate or political party’s campaign. It’s a simple enough term, and many nations have used it. However, there have been many concerns surrounding campaign finance. For instance, large sums of unregulated donations can influence a policy or election.

This is where campaign finance reform comes in. Many political activists want to limit money’s effects on policies and elections. One of the most significant reforms is minimizing large donations by a single group or individual to the same political party. Other goals of campaign finance reform include candidates and parties being transparent about campaign funds.

Supporters of campaign finance reforms claim that unlimited campaign contributions and spending can give certain interest groups uneven political power and further economic inequality.

History of Campaign Finance Reform in the United States

Campaign finance reforms in the United States go back a long way. In 1890, the Naval Appropriations Bill, the first federal campaign finance regulation, banned seeking campaign donations from navy yard workers.

17 years later, the Tillman Act bans corporations and national banks from directly contributing money to presidential or congressional campaigns. This only applied to general elections and had many loopholes.

In 1910, the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, or the Publicity Act, made House candidates disclose campaign spending and the source of contributions. It was amended the next year and was applied to Senate candidates.

Then, in 1921, Newberry v. United States declared the Publicity Act unconstitutional due to the Constitution not granting Congress the authority to regulate political parties or federal primary elections.

It was amended again four years later with new provisions. They included banning corporation contribution, candidates disclosing contribution sources greater than $50, prohibiting patronage, and spending no more than three cents per vote.

The Publicity Act was the standard guideline for campaign finance reform until 1971 when Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). This act intended to regulate where campaign funding came from and how people spent it. It was amended in 1974 after the Watergate scandal.

FECA influenced the creation of political action committees and caused candidates to differentiate between hard money and soft money. While hard money had strict limits, nobody said anything about soft money.

One significant impact FECA had was the creation of the Federal Election Commission. Created in 1971, this commission intended to oversee many campaigns’ aspects, particularly finance. The president appoints all six members, and Congress approves them.

Two years after the FECA’s reform, Buckley v. Valeo was ruled. This ruling maintained some restrictions on campaign financing and removed others. The ruling claims that people could spend as much as they wanted on expenses caused by political candidates. It also claims that people could contribute as much as they wanted to their own political campaigns.