Buckley v. Valeo
|Buckley v. Valeo|
|Argued November 10, 1975
Decided January 30, 1976
|Full case name||James L. Buckley, et al. v. Francis R. Valeo, Secretary of the United States Senate, et al.|
|Citations||424 U.S. 1 (more)
96 S. Ct. 612; 46 L. Ed. 2d 659; 1976 U.S. LEXIS 16; 76-1 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) P9189
|Subsequent history||As amended.|
|The Court upheld federal limits on campaign contributions and ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech.|
|U.S. Const. amend. I, Article II, Sec. 2, cl. 2|
Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States struck down several provisions in the 1974 Amendment to a law that limited campaign expenditures, independent expenditures by individuals and groups, and expenditures by a candidate from personal funds. The Court upheld the provision which sets limits on individuals' campaign contributions.
In 1974, over the veto of President Gerald Ford, Congress passed significant amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, creating the first comprehensive effort by the federal government to regulate campaign contributions and spending. The key parts of the amended law did the following
- limited contributions to candidates for federal office (2 USC §441a)
- required the disclosure of political contributions (2 USC §434),
- provided for the public financing of presidential elections (IRC Subtitle H),
- limited expenditures by candidates and associated committees,
- except for presidential candidates who accepted public funding (formerly 18 U.S.C. §608(c) (1)(C-F)),
- limited independent expenditures to $1000 (formerly 18 U.S.C. §608e),
- limited candidate expenditures from personal funds (formerly 18 U.S.C. §608a),
- created and fixed the method of appointing members to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) (formerly 2 U.S.C. §437c(a) (1)(A-C)).
A lawsuit was filed in the District Court for the D.C., on January 2, 1975, by Senator James L. Buckley of New York, former Senator, 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, and others. The suit was filed against Francis R. Valeo, the Secretary of the Senate an ex officio member of the FEC who represented the U.S. federal government. The court denied plaintiffs' request for declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Court of Appeals.
The petitioners sought for the district court to overturn the key provisions outlined above. They argued that the legislation was in violation of the 1st and 5th Amendment rights to freedom of expression and due process, respectively.
In a lengthy per curiam decision issued on January 30, 1976, the Court sustained the Act's limits on individual contributions, as well as the disclosure and reporting provisions and the public financing scheme. However, the limitations on campaign expenditures, on independent expenditures by individuals and groups, and on expenditures by a candidate from personal funds were struck down.
Importantly, the case held that restrictions on campaign contributions and spending, a form of political speech and association, could not be justified by the desire to equalize candidates, writing, “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some [in] order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” However, the Court did find that the government's compelling interest in preventing "corruption or its appearance" could justify restrictions that went beyond bribery. The Court ruled that because contributions involved the danger of "quid pro quo" exchanges, in which the candidate would agree, if elected, to take or not to take certain actions in exchange for the contribution, limitations on contributions could generally be justified. However, the Court struck down limitations on spending by candidates and spending by others undertaken independently of candidates, on the grounds that spending money did not, by definition, involve such candidate/donor exchanges.
The Court also held that the method for appointments to the Federal Election Commission was an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers. Associate Justice Harry Blackmun's papers indicate that Associate Justice William Rehnquist drafted the separation-of-powers portion of the per curiam opinion. The scheme by which the eight members of the commission were chosen was that the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives were ex officio members of the Commission without a right to vote, two members would be appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate upon recommendations of the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, two would be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives upon recommendations of the majority and minority leaders of the House, and two would be appointed by the President. The six voting members would then need to be confirmed by the majority of both Houses of Congress. In addition there was a requirement that each of the three appointing authorities was forbidden to choose both of their appointees from the same political party. The Supreme Court opined that these powers could properly be exercised by an "Officer of the United States" (validly appointed under Article II, Section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution) but held that the Commissioners could not exercise this significant authority because they were not "appointed". Id. at 137.
Although the decision upheld restrictions on the size of campaign contributions, because it struck down limits on expenditures some argue that this precedent allows those with great wealth to effectively drown out the speech of average citizens. Among those criticizing the decision on this line was philosopher John Rawls, who wrote that the Court's decision "runs the risk of endorsing the view that fair representation is representation according to the amount of influence effectively exerted."
Justice Byron White, in dissent, argued the entire law should have been upheld, in deference to Congress's greater knowledge and expertise on the issue.
From the other side, some disagree vigorously with Buckley, arguing that it sustained limits on campaign contributions which are protected by the First Amendment as free speech. This position was advanced by Chief Justice Warren Burger whose dissenting opinion argued that individual contributions and expenditures are protected speech acts. In recent years, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who were not on the Court at the time of Buckley, have unsuccessfully argued for overturning Buckley on these grounds. Despite criticism of Buckley from both sides, the case remains the starting point for judicial analysis of the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions. See e.g. McConnell v. FEC.
In 2008, the Court further restricted attempts to equalize spending in elections for the U.S. House and Senate when it struck down the "Millionaires Amendment" in FEC v Davis (originally Davis v. FEC). That case overturned legislation that allowed candidates to accept larger contributions if their opponent spent substantially from personal wealth. In 2010, the Court overturned Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) and part of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In Citizens United, the Court, following Buckley's holding providing more expansive First Amendment protections for independent expenditures made on a candidate's behalf, held that Congress could not ban independent expenditures by corporations. The next year, in Arizona Free Enterprise PAC v. Bennett (2011) the Court further restricted state authority to regulate campaign finance restrictions, striking down provisions of Arizona's public financing system that gave extra government money to candidates who faced high spending opponents or high levels of independent expenditures.
- Smith, Craig R. (2003). "Buckley v. Valeo". In Parker, Richard A. (ed.). Free Speech on Trial: Communication Perspectives on Landmark Supreme Court Decisions. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. pp. 203–217. ISBN 0-8173-1301-X.
- Rawls, Political Liberalism, Columbia University Press. 361.