A Brief History of Campaign Finance Laws
Democrat and Republican voters want dark money out of politics
From reform to the end of campaign finance laws
The first campaign finance reform legislation was the Tillman Act which was passed on January 26, 1907 as cited in Appendix 4: a Brief History of campaign finance Law by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to prevent corporations and national banks from contributing money to federal campaigns. It only applied to presidential and Congressional campaigns as the Senate was not a seated body until 1910. With no way to police candidates as the Federal Election Commission hadn’t yet been created, corporations and unions circumvented the Tillman Act giving unlimited personal donations to candidates through employees then returned the money as end of the year bonuses because they were small amounts.
When a 1904 secret Republican National Committee list of donors from corporations, banks, and Wall Street to presidential and Congressional candidates turned up from the 1901 and 1908 elections a publicity nightmare was created for Republicans. William Taft, who was president, signed the first federal campaign disclosure legislation into law in 1912, to cover up contributions he and Congressional candidates had received, not because either party wanted reform. It turned into a political bonanza for the Republican Party.
Nixon derailed the current campaign finance reform law
The infamous Watergate Scandal perpetrated by Republican President Richard Nixon exposed illegal corporate donations to his campaign. Gulf, Phillips, and Ashland oil were major contributors, giving over $100,000 each to his presidential campaign. 1972 had seen larger corporate donations, and from a larger number of corporations then at any time in U.S. political history after 1904. To save face a new law was passed in 1974 by both parties to strengthen disclosure and prevent further corruption as well as to regain the public’s trust. Later a 1976 Supreme Court ruling encouraged politicians to fight against any future campaign finance reform.
Citizens United proved that “Free” speech isn’t cheap
Citizens United was created in November 1988 by Conservative activist Floyd G Brown as a non-profit corporation in partnership with Charles and David Koch. This gave rise to a number of Super PAC’s tied to Citizens United like the National Security Political Action Committee (National Security PAC), Presidential Victory Committee and Americans for Bush during the George W. Bush campaign. The Super PAC’s were set up as non-profit corporations to legally escape public and government scrutiny and to avoid disclosure. At that time more dark money started being funneled to federal political campaigns, primarily those of Conservative candidates.
In an attempt to stop Citizen’s United and other political donors, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Act, Pub.L. 107–155, 116 Stat. 81, was enacted on March 27, 2002, H.R. 2356) to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. The bi-partisan law was written by Republican Senator John McCain and Democrat Russ Feingold along with recognized the dark direction campaign finance was taking because of groups like Citizens United that were backed and supported by Conservative Republicans. Citizen’s United later went before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that the law violated the first amendment right to free speech. The high court agreed and overturned the McCain/Feingold law.
Citizens United and the 2010 Supreme Court decision
As cited by the Center for Public Integrity, the Citizens United ruling gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools. The high court also wrote that since funds would not be going to individual candidates, this would not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.
Amazon.com: Buying Choices: Campaign Finance: What Everyone Needs to Know®
In 2015, well over half of the money contributed to the presidential race came from roughly 350 families. The 100…
Robert Mutch on the future of campaign finance reforms
The political scientist and Oxford Scholar says that campaign finance reform is not going to happen in the current political climate, regardless of what Democrats and Progressives want, even if they re-take both the U.S. Congress and Senate because of federal and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. One reason campaign finance and disclosure worked for over fifty years, and until 1972, was that parties worked within its confines voluntarily, and because there were few special interest groups and no PACS.
Mutch supports the idea of a ‘voucher system’ where every voter would be given a voucher that could only be used for a campaign donation. This would not only make politics more honest, it would take power away from groups like Citizens United and give it back to the public. This would be similar to individual public donations that Democrats began asking for as a result of the 2016 elections.