Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002

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The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) was enacted by the 107th Congress, 2nd Session and signed into law by President Bush on March 27, 2002 to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. The BCRA is also known as the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act (after senators Russ Feingold and John McCain, two of the Act’s key sponsors) or the Campaign Finance Reform Act. 

The two primary campaign financing issues the Act addresses are (1) restrictions on soft money and (2) issue advocacy/advertising.

Prior to the BCRA amendments, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 imposed restrictions on “hard money” donations—money donated to particular candidates—but left donors with no restrictions on their “soft money” contributions—money donated for general “party building” rather than the support of a particular political candidate.  Soft money is “raised outside the limits and prohibitions of federal campaign finance law” and is thus wholly exempt from federal regulation. The BCRA sought to close the soft money loophole by putting an end to soft money contributions in federal elections. 

The BCRA also sought to address issue advertisements—broad political advertising sponsored by noncandidate organizations. The Act classified these advertisements as “electioneering communications” and prohibited corporations and unions from sponsoring such advertisements. This part of the Act was overturned in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).

See the following cases for more information on BCRA developments:

  • McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003)
  • Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life (2007)
  • Davis v. Federal Election Commission (2008)
  • Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)
  • McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (2014)

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]