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Profile: Federal Corrupt Practices Act

a.k.a. FCPA, Publicity Act

Federal Corrupt Practices Act was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), also called the Publicity Act, is passed. It will remain the backbone of American campaign finance regulation until expanded in 1925 (see 1925). It expands upon the Tillman Act’s prohibition against corporate and bank donations to federal election campaigns (see 1907) by enacting campaign spending limits on US House election campaigns. It also requires full disclosure of all monies spent and contributed during federal campaigns. In 1911, the FCPA will be amended to cover Senate elections as well, and to set spending limits on all Congressional races. However, the bill fails to provide for enforcement and verification procedures, so the law remains essentially useless. (Federal Elections Commission 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline 1999; Center for Responsive Politics 2002 pdf file; Moneyocracy 2/2012) The law is rendered even less powerful after the Supreme Court overturns its provision limiting House and Senate candidate spending. (Pearson Education 2004)

The federal government revises and expands the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see June 25, 1910), a campaign finance law that lacks any enforcement or verification mechanisms, in the wake of the Teapot Dome corruption scandal. The amended version codifies and revises the expenditure limits and disclosure procedures for US Congressional candidates. It will replace the original FCPA as well as its predecessor, the Tillman Act (see 1907), and will remain the backbone of American campaign finance law until 1971. All campaign spending is strictly regulated, with contributions of $50 and over during a calendar year mandated to be reported. Senatorial candidates can spend no more than three cents for each voter in the last election, to a maximum of $25,000. House candidates may also spend up to three cents per voter in the last election, up to a $5,000 maximum. Offers of patronage and contracts are banned, as is any form of bribery. Corporate contributions of all kinds are banned. However, the power of enforcement is entirely vested within Congress, and thusly is routinely ignored. (Campaign Finance Timeline 1999; Center for Responsive Politics 2002 pdf file; Pearson Education 2004; National Public Radio 2012) In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson will refer to the FCPA as “more loophole than law.” (Geraci 2006 pdf file; National Public Radio 2012)

For the first time, the clerk of the US House of Representatives does his duty under the law and collects campaign finance reports, as mandated by the 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act (see 1925). W. Pat Jennings, a former congressman, turns in a list of violators to the US Department of Justice. Jennings’s list is ignored. (Center for Responsive Politics 2002 pdf file)

The massive Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) is signed into law by President Nixon. (The law is commonly thought of in the context of 1971, when Congress passed it, but Nixon did not sign it into law for several months.) The law is sparked by a rising tide of anger among the public, frustrated by the Vietnam War and the variety of movements agitating for change. The campaign watchdog organization Common Cause sued both the Democratic and Republican National Committees for violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see 1925), and though it lost the suit, it exposed the flaws and limitations of the law to the public. Common Cause then led a push to improve campaign finance legislation, aided by the many newly elected and reform-minded members of Congress. FECA repeals the toothless FCPA and creates a comprehensive framework for the regulation of federal campaign financing, from primaries and runoffs to conventions and general elections. The law requires full and timely disclosure of donations and expenditures, and provides broad definitions of both. It sets limits on media advertising as well as on contributions from candidates and their family members. The law permits unions and corporations to solicit voluntary contributions from members, employees, and stockholders, and allows union and corporate treasury money to be used for operating expenses for political action committees (PACs) or for voter drives and the like. It bans patronage or the promise of patronage, and bans contracts between a candidate and any federal department or agency. It establishes strict caps on the amounts individuals can contribute to their own campaigns—$50,000 for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, $35,000 for Senate candidates, and $25,000 for House candidates. It establishes a cap on television advertising at 10 cents per voter in the last election, or $50,000, whichever is higher. (Campaign Finance Timeline 1999; Center for Responsive Politics 2002 pdf file; Federal Election Commission 4/2008 pdf file) The difference before and after FECA is evident. Congressional campaign spending reportage from 1968 claimed only $8.5 million, while in 1972, Congressional campaign spending reports will soar to $88.9 million. (Federal Elections Commission 1998)

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