February 27, 1998

Campaign Finance Reform Chronology

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    E fforts to reform campaign finance in the last three decades:

    1970s -- In 1971, Congress passes the Federal Election Campaign Act , setting limits on and requiring disclosure of spending by candidates for federal office and providing public financing for Presidential campaigns. After the Watergate scandal brings down President Richard M. Nixon, Congress in 1974 creates the Federal Election Commission to enforce the act's provisions.

    In 1976, the Supreme Court rules in Buckley vs. Valeo that mandatory spending limits violate free speech guarantees. A 1979 package of amendments to the election campaign act also allows the use of donations to political parties rather than candidates, a "soft money" practice that explodes by the 1990s.

    Campaign spending in the 1978 general election totals $153.5 million.

    1980 -- Legislation limiting spending by political action committees dies in the Senate.

    General election spending totals $192.1 million.

    1986 -- The Senate votes twice in favor of strict new controls on fund-raising, but the final measure is tied up in partisan maneuvers and never comes to a vote.

    General election spending reaches $400.9 million.

    1988 -- A proposal for limiting overall campaign spending by candidates is shelved after eight votes fail to cut off a Republican filibuster. An effort to adopt a constitutional amendment overriding the Supreme Court's decision forbidding mandatory spending limits is also shelved.

    General election spending is $408.3 million.

    1990 -- The House and Senate both approve bills with voluntary spending limits and restrictions on political action committees. But conferees fail to resolve differences, and a bill was never sent to President George Bush.

    General election spending is $403.7 million

    1992 -- Bush vetoes a bill providing partial public financing for congressional candidates who abide by voluntary fund-raising ceilings and barring soft money contributions to presidential candidates. The Senate fails to override the veto.

    General election spending is $528.6 million.

    1994 -- Republicans again block a bill setting spending limits and authorizing partial public financing of congressional elections.

    General election spending is $616.2 million.

    1996 -- Bipartisan legislation providing for voluntary spending limits with rewards for those who comply and barring soft money is again killed by a Republican filibuster.

    General election spending is $650.8 million

    1997 -- The McCain-Feingold bill, a bipartisan effort to close loopholes involving soft money and issue-oriented television advertising expenditures, falls afoul of a Republican-led filibuster. The Senate sets a March 1998 deadline for another vote on the bill.

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