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Major campaign finance reform bill is passed

President Bush signs first major campaign finance reform since Watergate era following a decade-long battle by Public Citizen.

  • 28 Number of years since enactment of the last major campaign finance reform.
  • $249.9M Soft money raised by national Republican committees in the 2000 election cycle
  • $245.2M Soft money raised by national Democratic committees in the 2000 election cycle

In March 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, the first major campaign finance overhaul in nearly 30 years, following a decades-long grassroots battle by Public Citizen.

The law was intended to reduce the amount of soft money donations given to politicians, who in turn were expected to represent their wealthy supporters when carrying out congressional duties. It put federal limits on money raised by national political party committees and interest groups, ensuring that elections are citizen-funded.

Public Citizen lobbied hard for years to enact campaign finance reform legislation, including gathering tens of thousands of petitions signed by people in every state and forwarding them to lawmakers. Public Citizen also issued a slew of reports documenting the insidious effects of soft money and showing time and again how favors and policies were purchased.

As the bill was being written, Public Citizen organized press conferences and events with local groups in key districts and launched a fax campaign on its website, which generated thousands of faxes to lawmakers.

“Of course, the long struggle for comprehensive campaign finance reform is far from over,” said. Joan Claybrook, then-president of Public Citizen. Claybrook was correct, as the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizen’s United overturned in 2010 parts of the law that restricted corporations from independent political spending.

They said reform of the corrupt political system would be 'Armageddon.' But after years of struggle, today democracy has triumphed with our bipartisan legislative teamwork. Joan Claybrook, president, Public Citizen


  • The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 set federal limits on special interest and political party-raised “soft money.”
  • For more than 10 years Public Citizen mobilized voters, gathered tens of thousands of signatures and issued reports supporting the reforms.