Revision of Federal Corrupt Practices Act

July 1, 1931

Report Outline
Proposed Revision of Act for 1932 Campaign
The Corrupt Practices Act of 1925
Proposed Reforms in Campaign Financing
Activities of the Nye Investigating Committee
State Corrupt Practices Acts
Senate Investigations of Primary Expenditures

Proposed Revision of Act for 1932 Campaign

The problem of financing political parties and political campaigns is one of the greatest unsolved problems of democratic government. Attempts to regulate party funds have been made by the state legislatures since 1890 and by Congress since 1907, but these efforts have been far from effective either in the states or in the nation. The amount of money spent for election purposes in the United States has been constantly on the increase; large contributions have come from industrial and other interests which later have been the beneficiaries of governmental favors; and some of the money has been spent for dubious purposes. Meanwhile, Congress has failed to legislate since 1910 with reference to primary elections, preferring to set up special committees to investigate primary campaign expenditures. Although Congress has not yet defined the amount a senator may spend in primaries and elections, or the amount it considers excessive, the Senate has excluded men from membership who have possessed their credentials of election, on the ground that they have spent too much money.

In these circumstances a number of concrete proposals have recently been made to revise the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925 so as to remedy its alleged defects. Several bills have been introduced in the Senate to this end, notably those of Senators La Follette (R., Wis.), McKellar (D., Tenn.), and Cutting (R., N. M.). Senate investigations of primary campaign expenditures, beginning with the Kenyon committee in 1920 and coming down through the Nye committee of 1930–31, have resulted in reports containing recommendations for change. A committee of the Progressive conference in March of this year deplored “the excessive and corrupt use of money in primary and general elections” and favored “a thorough-going strengthening of the national corrupt practices act and its extension to covery primary elections.” And in May, 1931, the Nye committee of the United States Senate heard testimony on remedial legislation of several experts on the subject, including Prof. James K. Pollock, of the University of Michigan, who submitted to the committee a proposed draft of a new federal corrupt practices act. Further hearings on the subject will be held by the Nye committee in October or November of this year, with a view to completing a comprehensive legislative program to cope with the conditions which repeated investigations have revealed.

In view of these recent developments and of the approach of another presidential and congressional campaign, this report will review the alleged defects of the act of 1925 and the proposals for its revision.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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May 28, 2010  Campaign Finance Debates
Jun. 13, 2008  Campaign Finance Reform
Nov. 22, 2002  Campaign Finance Showdown
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Mar. 29, 1985  Campaign Finance Debate
Oct. 11, 1974  Campaign Spending in Europe and America
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Jun. 05, 1946  Campaign Spending and the Law
Apr. 15, 1940  Money in Politics
Jul. 01, 1931  Revision of Federal Corrupt Practices Act
Dec. 01, 1929  The Vare Case
Apr. 06, 1928  Presidential Campaign Funds
Aug. 17, 1926  Excessive Expenditures in Election Campaigns
Aug. 10, 1926  Illegal and Corrupt Practices in Elections
Jul. 16, 1924  Election Costs and Campaign Contributions
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