The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law
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The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law


The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law.
An online presentation of the FEC Information Division. This presentation provides a brief overview
of the history of campaign finance law, information about the Commission, a description of the
current campaign finance laws and a discussion of the FEC’s role in campaigns and elections. Between 1907 and 1966, a variety of laws were
enacted to limit influence of wealthy special interests, regulate spending in campaigns
and deter abuses through public disclosure of campaign finances. In 1971, Congress consolidated
its earlier reform efforts into the Federal Election Campaign Act, which featured more
stringent disclosure requirements for federal candidates, political parties and political
action committees (PACs). Still, without a central administrative authority, the campaign
finance laws were difficult to enforce. Following reports of serious financial abuses during
the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions
by individuals, political parties and PACs, and to establish the Federal Election Commission.
The Commission opened its door in April 1975. The FEC was established as an independent
regulatory agency–not tied to the President’s cabinet–and was charged with the task of
administering and enforcing the federal campaign finance laws. The Commission is composed of six Commissioners
who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate. They serve staggered six-year
terms, and no more than three can represent the same political party. Commissioners are
limited to serving one term in office. The Commission holds regular public meetings to
consider policy matters and executive sessions, which are closed to the public, to discuss
enforcement and other matters that must be kept confidential. The federal campaign finance laws include
the Federal Election Campaign Act (or FECA) and the Presidential Election Campaign Fund
Act. The FECA places limitations on the sources and amounts of funds used to finance federal
elections, and requires candidates for federal office and the committees that support them
to file regular reports disclosing their receipts and disbursements. The statute also gives
the Commission exclusive jurisdiction over civil enforcement of the FECA’s provisions.
The Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act provides for the public funding of Presidential
elections, using funds derived from the $3 tax checkoff. Every Presidential election
since 1976 has been financed, in part, with public funds. Next, let’s talk briefly about the FEC’s
role in administering and enforcing the federal campaign finance laws. The agency’s major
responsibilities include: administering the public funding program;
facilitating disclosure of campaign finance information; clarifying the requirements of
the law; and enforcing the law. The Commission administers the public funding
program by determining which committees qualify for public funds and by conducting post-election
audits of the committees that receive funding. Disclosure is the foundation upon which many
other provisions of the campaign finance law rest. That’s why the Commission devotes
considerable time and effort to ensuring that committees’ reports are readily available
to the public. The Commission reviews every report to ensure that it is accurate and complete, and that the committee has complied with the requirements of the law. Reports are available to the public within 48 hours of the agency’s receipt, both in the Public Records Office and
on the FEC’s website. Electronically-filed reports are available on-line almost instantaneously. The Commission also devotes considerable resources
to ensuring the committees understand the laws they’re being asked to comply with.
The Commission clarifies the law through its regulations and through advisory opinions
which respond to specific questions raised by the regulated community. In addition, the
agency offers a complete educational outreach program that includes publications, conferences
and workshops, a toll-free information line and on-line help on the web and through public
e-mail accounts. The Commission learns of possible violations
of the law in three ways: through its own review of reports;
through referrals from other government agencies; and through complaints filed by members of the regulated community or the general public. Many FEC enforcement actions take that form of a Matter Under Review (or MUR)–this is the traditional compliance process that can result it civil penalties (or fines) for the
respondents. Some cases may qualify for the agency’s
Alternative Dispute Resolution Program which seeks to resolve matters more quickly through
a negotiation process. Violations involving late filing or failure
to file disclosure reports are handled through the administrative fine program. Under that
program the Commission levies fines based on the number of days a report is late, the
report’s proximity to an election and the amount of activity the report contains. That concludes our brief overview of the Commission,
the federal campaign finance laws and the FEC’s role in administering and enforcing
those laws. For additional general information, consult our “FEC and the Federal Campaign
Finance Law” brochure, available in print and here on the web. We also encourage you
to make use of the many other resources available here on our website. Enjoy your visit!

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