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The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974

Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 established rules and regulations that brought transparency to federal elections in America. In this lesson, you'll examine the specifics of the legislation, as well as the scandalous political event that played a role in its development.

Campaign Finance Reform in America

Since the beginning of the 20th century, campaign finance reform has remained an issue in American politics. President Teddy Roosevelt, who held office from 1901 to 1909, was one of the first presidents to call for reforming the federal campaign process. He wanted to limit the growing power of special interests, such as business leaders who donated money to candidate's campaigns in exchange for favors. During his tenure, the U.S. Congress passed the Tillman Act of 1907, which prevented corporations from donating money to political campaigns at the national level.

President Teddy Roosevelt
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The Federal Corrupt Practices Act, first enacted in 1910 under President William Howard Taft, built upon the principles found in the Tillman Act. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress passed the Hatch Act of 1939, which forbade federal employees from the executive branch from participating in certain political activities. Additionally, the Smith-Connally Act of 1943 and the Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1947 prevented labor unions from contributing to federal election campaigns.

Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 was an amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which sought to create meaningful change and transparency in the financing of federal campaigns. When President Richard M. Nixon signed the original legislation in 1971, he and some of his key staff members were deeply involved in their own campaign finance improprieties, including secret campaign or slush finds, money laundering and undisclosed donations. Many of these improprieties became public during the Watergate Scandal, which began with a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters in 1972 and culminated in President Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Nixon resigns in April, 1974
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Legislative Specifics

As a response to the federal campaign irregularities uncovered during the Watergate Scandal, the U.S. Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 in 1974. In particular, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974:

  • Ensured that all donations to federal election campaigns were part of the public record
  • Limited individual contributions to candidates for federal office to $1,000
  • Limited contributions of political action committees (PACS) to $5,000
  • Created the Federal Election Commission in order to regulate campaign finance

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