Federal Corrupt Practices Act

Federal Corrupt Practices Act

The "Federal Corrupt Practices Act" (also known as the Publicity Act) was a federal law of the United States enacted in 1910 and amended in 1911 and 1925. It remained the nation's primary law regulating campaign finance in federal elections until the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1971.

The Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) was enacted on June 25, 1910 and codified at 2 U.S.C. Section 241.

The 1910 Act established campaign spending limits for political parties in House general elections. It was the first federal law to establish public disclosure of financial spending by political parties (but not candidates) by requiring the national committees of political parties to file post-election reports regarding their contributions to individual candidates and their own individual expenditures. However, the 1910 Act only covered single-state political parties and election committees, carried few penalties and was rarely enforced.

On August 19, 1911, the FCPA was amended to extend the Act's requirements to U.S. Senate candidates and primary elections. The 1911 amendments also required financial disclosure by candidates for the first time, and established limits on the amount of money candidates were allowed to spend on their campaigns. House campaign expenditures were held to $5,000 and Senate expenditures to $10,000, or the amount established by state law (whichever was less).

But then the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in "Newberry v. U.S."
256 U.S. 232 (1921) that the congressional authority to regulate elections did not extend to party primaries or nominations, thus striking down the 1911 amendment's spending limits.

On February 28, 1925, the Federal Corrupt Practices Act was revised and strengthened. The amendments extended the FCPA's coverage to multi-state parties and election committees, and required that financial disclosure reports be made quarterly. It also established a requirement that any contribution over $100 be reported. The amendments also raised Senate campaign spending limits to $25,000. But this stronger version failed to provide for adequate regulation of campaign finance. The law provided for no regulatory authority to establish the manner of reporting or its disclosure to the public, and set no penalties for failure to comply. The law did not regulate total contributions, which encouraged parties and donors to set up multiple committees and make multiple donations (all under $100) to evade the law's limits. Enforcement was left up to Congress, which rarely acted.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the reporting requirements of the FCPA against a constitutional challenge grammarin "Burroughs v. U.S." 290 U.S. 534 (1934).

In 1941, the U.S. Supreme Court in "United States v. Classic," 313 U.S. 299 (1941) upheld the Acts' spending limits in federal elections. The court limited its ruling, however, by concluding that the congressional power to regulate extended only in cases where state law made primaries and nominations part of the election and/or whenever the primary effectively determined the outcome of the election.

The FCPA was repealed by the passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). It was no longer in force on April 8, 1972.


*"Constitutional Law. Federal Corrupt Practices Act. Congressional Control over Elections of Presidential Electors." "Columbia Law Review." 34:4 (April 1934).
*"Campaign Finance Reform: A Sourcebook." Anthony Corrado, Thomas E. Mann, Daniel R. Ortiz, Trevor Potter, and Frank J. Sorauf, eds. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1997.

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