Campaign Finance Reform: A Sourcebook

By Anthony Corrado; Thomas E. Mann et al. | Go to book overview

WHERE ARE WE NOW?
CHAPTER 1
The Current State of Campaign Finance Law

TREVOR POTTER

The federal election laws were written broadly by Congress in 1971 and 1974 to cover all money spent "in connection with" or "for the purpose of influencing" federal elections. The intent of Congress was to regulate all funds which might be considered federal election related. However, the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 ( 1976)(see chapter 3), and subsequent cases, has defined these statutory phrases to have a much more limited reach. The Court held that the activity covered by the federal election laws must be narrowly and clearly defined so as not to "chill" speech protected by the First Amendment, and to provide notice of regulation to speakers. This chapter describes the regulated portion of the federal campaign finance system (contribution limits), and then the use of "soft" and "issue advocacy" money to influence federal elections from beyond the reach of the federal election laws. It also describes the many entities engaged in political speech and spending, from party committees to labor unions to 501 (c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations. Much of the relevant statutory language and Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulations are reprinted in documents 6.1 and 6.2.


DIRECT CONTRIBUTIONS TO FEDERAL
CANDIDATES AND NATIONAL
COMMITTEES OF POLITICAL PARTIES

The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) defines "contribution" to include "anything of value" given to a federal candidate or committee. This encompasses not only direct financial contributions, loans, loan guarantees, and the like, but also in-kind contributions of office s PACe, equipment, fundraising expenses, salaries paid to persons who assist a candidate, and the like; 2 U.S.C. § 431(8)(A). The act places limits on the amount individuals and other entities may contribute to candidates and federal committees, whether directly or in kind.


Individuals

The act permits individuals to contribute up to $ 1,000 to a candidate per election; § 441 a(a)(1)(A). The term "election" under the act includes "a general, special, primary, or runoff election"; § 431 (1)(A). An individual may therefore contribute up to $1,000 to a candidate's primary and another $1,000 to the general election campaign. Each individual has his or her own limit, so that a couple may give $4,000 in total per election cycle to each federal candidate. Additionally, minor children may give if it is their own money, under their own control, and voluntarily contributed by them--requirements sometimes ignored by politically active parents of infants and schoolchildren.

Individuals are also limited in the amounts that they can contribute to other political entities. Individuals are limited to $20,000 per year in contributions to the federal accounts of a national party committee, such as the Republican National Committee (RNC) or Democratic National Committee (DNC); § 441(a)(1)(B). Additionally, individual contributions are limited to $5,000 per year to any

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