During the 1970's Congress and the Supreme Court paid the most sustained attention in American history to the financing of federal election campaigns. Congress passed a succession of measures, known collectively as the Federal Election Campaign Act ("FECA" or the "Act"), closely regulating the activities of candidates, parties, private organizations, and individuals in raising and spending campaign money.
Prior to FECA, election finance was largely an extension of the private marketplace. Campaigns were funded through private, voluntary contributions to parties and candidates, with donors contributing to the extent of their interest and wealth, and private economic inequalities were replicated in the political marketplace. The central thrust of FECA was to move the campaign finance process in a more egalitarian and public direction. Congress restricted the size and source of campaign contributions, imposed limitations on campaign expenditures, and provided for the optional public funding of presidential campaigns. Public funding was intended to free the major party nominees from the need to solicit wealthy donors and to give all citizens an equal role in the financing of campaigns. The transformation of the campaign finance system, however, was incomplete. The Act failed to provide for public funding of congressional campaigns, leaving those campaigns dependent on private funding subject to contribution and expenditure limitations. The Supreme Court, in its review of FECA in Buckley v. Valeo, invalidated most of the Act's expenditure limitations, although it upheld the contribution restrictions and the public funding system for presidential candidates. The result was the construction of a hybrid system, consisting of public and private components, equalizing and free spending elements.
The Federal Election Campaign Act and the 1980 Election,
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