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A History of Campaign Finance

1907: President Theodore Roosevelt calls for public financing of congressional and presidential elections. Congress passes Tillman Act to prohibit business groups from contributing to federal candidates.

1925: Congress passes Federal Corrupt Practices Act, which limits contributions and requires disclosure of receipts and expenditures by federal candidates.

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1943: Congress passes Smith-Connally Act, which bars unions from making direct contributions in federal elections from union treasury funds until end of Word War II.

1947: Congress's Taft-Hartley Act makes this ban permanent and expands it to include primaries and conventions. All these acts easily circumvented and poorly enforced.

1971: Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) passed. Requires reporting of contributions and expenses over $100. Requires political committees with receipts over $1,000/year to file statement of organization. Requires TV stations to sell candidates time at lowest rate. Limits spending on media ads. Limits contribution of candidate and his/her family to own campaign.

1971: Revenue Act of 1971 passed. Provides public funding of presidential campaigns. Offers tax benefits in exchange for political contributions. Allows annual $1 checkoff on taxes to fund presidential campaigns. Establishes guidelines for Presidential Election Campaign Fund.

1974: In wake of Watergate, which involved large campaign donations in effort to buy influence, Congress reforms presidential campaign finance: Limits size of contributions caps spending, establishes Federal Election Commission, abolishes limits on media ads. Congress also limits its own contributions from individuals and political action committees and caps spending.

1976: Supreme Court declares mandatory spending limits of 1974 law unconstitutional as, in essence, violating right to free speech.

1979: House passes Campaign Contributions Reform Act to lower limit on political action committee (PAC) contributions to $1,000. Senate does not take up the bill.

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1980-1989: Various bills proposed in each session of Congress but nothing reaches vote.

1989: Federal Election Commission announces $1 checkoff fund for presidential elections may run out of money by 1992 presidential election. Later amends projection: Fund will run dry by 1996.

1989: House bans speech honoraria starting in 1991.

1990: Both houses pass reform legislation, but conference never held. House bill lacked public financing and allowed candidates to accept up to 50 percent of contributions from PACs. Senate favored spending limits and public financing.

1991: Senate bans speech honoraria starting in August 1991.

1991 to present: Last year, both houses pass reform legislation, now being ironed out in pre-conference meetings by Democratic staffers. Bill could reach President's desk this spring, but veto promised. SOURCE: Center for Responsive Politics; Common Cause; Congressional Quarterly.

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