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Friday, December 14, 2012

Campaign Finance Reform: A Compendium

Federal law has regulated money in elections for more than a century. Concerns about limiting the potential for corruption and informing voters have been at the heart of that law and related regulations and judicial decisions. Restrictions on private money in campaigns, particularly large contributions, have been a common theme throughout the history of federal campaign finance law. The roles of corporations, unions, interest groups, and private funding from individuals have attracted consistent regulatory attention. Congress has also required that certain information about campaigns’ financial transactions be made public. Collectively, three principles embodied in this regulatory tradition—limits on sources of funds, limits on contributions, and disclosure of information about these funds—constitute ongoing themes in federal campaign finance policy.

Throughout most of the 20th century, campaign finance policy was marked by broad legislation enacted sporadically. Key legislative action on campaign finance issues remains rare. Since the 1990s, however, momentum on federal campaign finance policy, including regulatory and judicial action, has arguably increased. Congress last enacted major campaign finance legislation in 2002. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) largely banned unregulated soft money in federal elections and restricted funding sources for pre-election broadcast advertising known as electioneering communications. As BCRA was implemented, regulatory developments at the Federal Election Commission, and court cases, stirred controversy and renewed popular and congressional attention to campaign finance issues. Since BCRA, Congress has also continued to explore legislative options and has made comparatively minor amendments to the nation’s campaign finance law.

In a major development, on January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling, among other things, lifted the long-standing Federal Election Campaign Act prohibition on corporations—and, implicitly, unions—using their general treasury funds for political advertisements known as independent expenditures and electioneering communications. Independent expenditures explicitly call for election or defeat of political candidates (known as express advocacy), may occur at any time, and are usually broadcast advertisements. They must also be uncoordinated with the campaign in question. Electioneering communications are defined only as broadcast advertising, are aired during specific pre-election windows, and might discuss a candidate, but do not explicitly call for election or defeat (known as issue advocacy).

Date of Report: December 4, 2012
Number of Pages: 187
Order Number: C-12009
Price: $59.95

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