Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Buckley v. Valeo
Buckley v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1) was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976. Appellants sought review of the Court of Appeals' decision which sustained key provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and related provisions of the Internal Revenue Code . Appellants challenged the constitutionality of the legislation on First Amendment and Fifth Amendment grounds, claiming that an individual or group's campaign contributions and expenditures are the very core of political speech , and that by placing limits on allowable donation amounts, the Act's limitations constituted restraints on their First Amendment liberty that were both "gross and direct." They further asserted that the legislation "invidiously discriminate[d] against nonincumbent candidates and minor parties in contravention of the Fifth Amendment."
In a lengthy Per Curiam opinion, The Supreme 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 her personal funds were found to be constitutionally infirm in that they placed severe restrictions on protected expression and association, yet lacked any compelling countervailing government interest necessary to sustain them.
Some believe that this precedent is incompatible with democracy, because it allows those with great wealth to effectively drown out the speech of those not able to influence election outcomes through financial contributions. Organizations working to overturn Buckley include ReclaimDemocracy.org, National Voting Rights Institute, and U.S. PIRG . Justice Byron White, in dissent, argued that 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. This position was advanced by Chief Justice Warren Burger in dissent, who claimed that he could discern no constitutional difference between individual contributions and expenditures, as both are protected speech acts. Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as Justice Antonin Scalia, have argued in recent years for overturning Buckley on this ground, but were rebuffed in 2003's McConnell v. FEC, which upheld the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill. McCain-Feingold included a prohibition of "soft money" as well as limits on independent expenditures by private groups.
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