Federal Election Campaign Act, 1971 (amended 1974)
Created Federal Elections Commission (1975); contains disclosure requirements for candidates; creates system of public funding for presidential campaigns; institutes legal limits on contributions by individuals and organizations; prohibits direct contributions from corporations, foreign nationals, government contractors, contributions in someone else's name; prohibits cash contributions over $100. Originally put limits on how much candidates could spend; such limits were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), together with limits on how much of his or her own money a candidate could spend in a campaign. Candidate spending cannot be limited unless the candidate accepts federal funds (only available to presidential candidates). Amended by BCRA in 2002 (see below).
Privacy Act, 1974
Government agencies may not disclose any record to any person, or to another agency, except after a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains. Protects the privacy of government records pertaining to individual citizens.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that a free appropriate public education be provided to all students, regardless of their disabilities.
Ethics in Government Act, 1978
Sets requirements for financial disclosure for elected public officials, and placed restrictions on former government officials' lobbying activities.
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, 1985
This law provided for automatic across-the-board spending cuts ("sequesters") to take effect if the president and Congress failed to reach established targets; because the automatic cuts were declared unconstitutional, a revised version of the act was passed in 1987; it failed to result in reduced deficits because leaders found ways around the requirements of the law.
Tax Reform Act of 1986
Lowered tax rates and reduced loopholes (previously the tax code provided for high marginal rates and many deductions; after this law, marginal rates were much lower and deductions were greatly reduced). Top rate went from 50% to 28%; now 35%.
Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990
Prohibits discrimination against disabled people in employment, public accommodations, and housing. Disabled people must be "qualified" for the employment for the ADA to apply; for instance, a blind person would not be able to sue under ADA if a bus company refused to hire him or her as a driver. Signed into law by President George H. W. Bush; took effect in 1992.
Motor Voter Registration Act of 1993
Requires states to allow citizens to register to vote when they apply for a driver's license or have other contact with state agencies, such as for unemployment or welfare benefits. Has not dramatically increased overall voter registration. Was opposed by Republicans because they feared Democrats would increase their voter registration advantage. Was passed by Democratic Congress but vetoed by Pres. G. H. W. Bush; passed again and signed by Pres. Clinton in 1993.
Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
Requires employers to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for personal illness, family illness, or the addition of a child to the family. Signed by Pres. Clinton in 1993 after being vetoed by Pres. G. H. W. Bush in 1992
North American Free Trade Agreement provides for the removal of trade barriers between US, Canada, and Mexico.
Welfare Reform Act of 1996
Eliminated the old AFDC program and replaced it with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Sets time limits of 2 years at a time and 5 years lifetime that federa l money can be used to provide benefits. Goal is to move people off of welfare and into jobs; number of welfare recipients has dropped dramatically since passage of this law.
PATRIOT Act, 2001
Passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11/2001, the Patriot Act dramatically expands the authority of U.S. law enforcement for the stated purpose of fighting terrorist acts in the United States and abroad. Most of the law had "sunset" provisions, meaning they would expire unless renewed by Congress later. Most of these provisions were made permanent in 2006.
No Child Left Behind Act, 2002
Major expansion of federal role in public education. Designed to close achievement gaps between different groups of students. Requires states receiving federal education money to implement standardized tests, and requires that states meet certain goals for improving test scores over time in all groups, including ESOL and special needs students. Is not technically a federal mandate because compliance is conditioned on acceptance of federal aid ("conditions of aid").
Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA or McCain-Feingold)
Banned collection and use of "soft money" (unlimited donations to party organizations for party-building activities); placed limitations on timing of "issue ads" during campaigns; increased contribution limits; was upheld by Supreme Court; led to increased donations to "527" organizations, as seen in the 2004 election when "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" collected money to run ads against John Kerry. In other words, "soft money" found another way to get into campaigns.
PATRIOT Act II, 2006
Makes many provisions of the original PATRIOT Act permanent; includes provisions allowing collection of information from ISPs, friends, relatives, and businesses, without informing people; expanded reach of secret courts; increases government secrecy.