- Buckley v. Valeo
Buckley v. Valeo
Supreme Court of the United States
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. Holding The Court upheld federal limits on campaign contributions and ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech. Court membershipChief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Case opinions Per curiam. Concur/dissent Burger Concur/dissent White Concur/dissent Marshall Concur/dissent Blackmun Concur/dissent Rehnquist Laws applied 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 upheld a federal law which set limits on campaign contributions, but ruled that spending money to influence elections is a form of constitutionally protected free speech, and struck down portions of the law. The court also ruled candidates can give unlimited amounts of money to their own campaigns.
In 1974, over the veto of President Gerald R. Ford, the 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 and 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.
The Court also held that the method for appointments to the Federal Election Commission was an unconstitutional violation of Separation of Powers. 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."
On a somewhat different note, 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 on the grounds that it sustained some limits on campaign contributions which, they argue, are protected by the First Amendment as free speech. This position was advanced by Chief Justice Warren Burger in his dissent, who claimed that individual contributions and expenditures are protected speech acts. Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, who were not on the Court at the time of Buckley, have argued for overturning Buckley on these grounds, but their position has not been adopted by the court. 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, upholding the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("McCain-Feingold Bill"). This legislation included a prohibition on soft money as well as limits on independent expenditures by private groups.
In 2008, the Court further restricted attempts to minimize the effects of private money on races for the U.S. House and Senate when it struck down the "Millionaires Amendment" in the case of FEC v Davis (originally Davis v. FEC). In 2010, the Court overturned Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) and part of McConnell v. FEC in Citizen's United v FEC. In Citizens United, the Court reinterpreted Buckley as providing more expansive First Amendment protections for independent expenditures made on a candidate's behalf. In 2011, the Court further restricted methods of campaign finance restrictions, based on a reinterpretation of Buckley and Davis in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, striking down a public financing system put in place 13 years earlier in response to Arizona's widespread campaign corruption scandals.
- List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 424
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)
- Eight Magic Words
- 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 081731301X.
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