Election Campaign & Political Law

An Overview of Election Campaign & Political Law

Election campaign and political law refers to every facet of the electoral process and political activities. These include every citizen’s right to vote and campaign financing, per the Federal Election Campaign Act. Both state and federal statutes control this body of law.

Regulation of political activity has grown recently as the political landscape continues to change. Every initiative related to an election campaign, whether it is a ballot proposal, lobbying initiative or fundraising, is now under increased scrutiny. State and federal laws often overlap in terms of reporting requirements and restrictions on financial contributions to campaigns.

Changing Political Landscape & Elections

Things began to change after ho can forget the 2000 presidential election with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore. After what some viewed as a voting debacle in Florida, many states have implemented new election regulations. Issues surrounding ballot validations and ensuring every citizen exercises their constitutional right to vote may open the door to more legal disputes.

State laws designed to regulate elections cannot conflict with federal powers or constitutional rights. Furthermore, states are prohibited from implementing laws that infringe upon the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens. As a result, election campaign law has become a robust area for change and legal challenges.

Campaign Finance Laws

In recent years we’ve have seen an increased awareness in campaign finance laws. These laws are designed to prevent campaign contributions from having excessive influence over elected officials.

For instance, lobbyists must formally register before contacting federal government representatives or face prosecution. Lobbyists promote different policy positions to federal, state and local lawmakers. Some states have set limits on how much money lobbyists can spend trying to sway a lawmaker’s position.

Federal and State Election Laws

There are different laws regulating the funding of federal and state campaigns. On the federal level, there are laws that regulate what is done with money allocated for political campaigns. States may have similar laws on the books for state and local elections.

The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is responsible for overseeing the disclosure of campaign finance information. The FEC is also charged with enforcing different provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Considered an independent regulatory agency, the FEC's duties include enforcing campaign finance limitations.

The FECA was passed in 1971 to limit how much money could go into federal election campaigns. Candidates and their political action committees are required to tell the public who contributes to their campaigns and how the money is spent.

Then in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held the federal government cannot legally keep corporations from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. So now, while corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means like ads. This creates yet another path to influencing the electorate.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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