Campaign Finance Reforms: Past Accomplishments, Future Challenges


On November 4, 1980 Ronald Reagan captured the White House in a landslide Electoral College victory, culminating a quest for the presidency that began in 1968. In that twelve-year span, the process for funding presidential and congressional campaigns had changed dramatically. To candidate Reagan in 1968, “public financing,” “PACs,” and “independent expenditures” had little, if any, meaning. In 1980 these terms described important factors in the presidential and congressional campaigns.

Today, ten years after the historic campaign finance reform effort began, is an appropriate time to take stock of the campaign finance laws and to consider what modifications and further improvements are need ed. This article will describe fundamental changes that are needed in the congressional campaign financing system, incremental adjustments that should be made to improve the presidential campaign system, and steps which should be taken to respond to the growth in independent expenditures efforts. The article will also briefly examine the enforcement of the election statutes by the Federal Election Commission. First, however, we must look to the legislative achievements of the 1970’s which represent the greatest burst of campaign finance activities in this century. Fundamental changes of an historic nature occurred in the role of money in American politics. We must examine these achievements to understand fully the campaign finance issues of the 1980’s.

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