Then Along Came FECA


There were no campaign finance laws to speak of from the founding of the republic through the end of the nineteenth century. This laissez-faire circumstance burdened the nation with such prominent political figures as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Grover Cleveland – certainly a far cry from such products of the campaign finance reform era as Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Government employees, who as agents of the state had a vested interest in its expansion, were the first organized contributors to campaigns, though in many cases their “donations” were as voluntary as that of the cornered pedestrian handing over his wallet to a pistol-wielding mugger. The Jacksonian Democrats of the 1830s, founders of the spoils system, imposed a levy on New York US customs employees. As Robert E. Mutch notes in Campaigns, Congress, and Courts (1988), his history of campaign finance, the result of this shakedown was an 1839 bill by the Whigs to ban federal officers from paying “any money toward the election of any public functionary, whether of the General or State Government.” The bill failed, of course. Politicians were not about to cut off the most reliable source of campaign revenue. But, the Democrats were not alone in this practice. Soon they were to be joined by the party that succeeded the Whigs. In the post-Civil War era, the Republicans milked federal employees just as vigorously as the Jacksonian Democrats had, if not more so: in 1876, for instance, federal employees paid 2% of their salaries to the GOP.1


Public Financing Presidential Election Major Party Presidential Campaign Campaign Finance 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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