POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Federal Election Campaign Act

The Federal Election Campaign Act 1971 is the main act of congress through which political campaign finance is regulated in the United States. The act, originally passed under the Nixon administration in 1971, sought to bring all earlier attempts at reforming campaign finance since the beginning of the 20th century under one law. The effect of the Act was to introduce stricter disclosure requirements for political parties, federal candidates and political action committees. 

However, the Act did not establish a central authority responsible for enforcing it, and was subsequently amended in 1974 to create the Federal Election Commission, as well as impose limits on political campaign contributions by individuals, political action committees and political parties.

The Act has since been amended six times and been the subject of high profile legal cases in which the courts have struck down certain sections of it. The most recent example of this is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), which held that political contributions were protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Thus, corporations and trade unions, which had previously been banned from political spending, are now able make unlimited financial contributions to political campaigns through political action committees.

See also: Federal Election Commission, Constitution, Election Campaign

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