Federal Election Commission

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 344

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent agency that was established by the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (88 Stat. § 1280 [2U.S.C.A. § 431 et seq.]). The 1974 amendments?passed after President RICHARD M. NIXON resigned in the wake of the WATERGATE scandals, which included charges of abuse of power and OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE involving campaign contributions?set out financial rules governing campaigns for federal office. The FEC was designed to act both as a clearinghouse for information on federal campaign laws and as the enforcer of campaign laws.

The FEC is composed of six commissioners who are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The act also provides for three statutory officers?the staff director, the general counsel, and the inspector general?who are appointed by the commission.

The FEC's main responsibility is to enforce federal campaign financing laws. Thus, its scope is limited to overseeing the financing of congressional, senatorial, and presidential election campaigns. The Federal Election Campaign Act, as amended in 1974, was intended to limit severely the amount of financial contributions made by wealthy individuals, and to place limits on the amounts that candidates could spend on their campaigns. In addition, the law required public disclosure of all campaign contributions and established public financing for presidential campaigns.

Since the law was enacted in 1971, the FEC has been faced with lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of its campaign-financing provisions. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 96 S. Ct. 612, 46 L. Ed. 2d 659(1976), complicated the work of the FEC when it ruled that the 1974 act's limitation on campaign expenditures was unconstitutional. The Court did uphold the limit of $1,000 for individual contributions, but ruled that candidates could spend as much as they wished of their personal fortunes on their campaigns.

Because of loopholes in the law and the Buckley decision, there has been a tremendous growth in POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES (PACs) as vehicles for major campaign spending. PACs are special organizations formed by labor, industry, the professions, and other interest groups that are not identified with individual candidates. PACs are not bound by the individual-contribution restriction; therefore, their political influence has risen...

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