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Buckley v. Valeo - 424 U.S. 1, 96 S. Ct. 612 (1976)


A provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, 86 Stat. 3, amended by 88 Stat. 1263, for expenditure ceilings imposes direct and substantial restraints on the quantity of political speech. A primary effect of the expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of campaign speech by individuals, groups, and candidates. The restrictions, while neutral as to the ideas expressed, limit political expression at the core of the electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms.


An action against the Federal Election Commission and various government officials was instituted by various individuals and groups, including federal officeholders, candidates, and political organizations, challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and provisions of Subtitle H of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 for public financing of Presidential election campaigns. The principal statutes involved were attacked primarily as violating First Amendment speech and association rights and Fifth Amendment equal protection principles: (a) limit political contributions by individuals or groups to any single candidate for a federal elective office to $ 1,000, limit contributions to any such candidate by political committees to $ 5,000, and impose a $ 25,000 annual limitation on total contributions by any contributor; (b) limit independent expenditures by an individual or group advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for federal office to $ 1,000 per year, set limits, depending on the office involved, on expenditures by a candidate for federal office during any calendar year, and establish limits, depending on the office involved, on overall campaign expenditures by candidates; (c) require political committees to report to the Federal Election Commission the names of persons contributing more than $ 10, with the names of those contributing more than $ 100 in a calendar year being subject to public inspection, and require every person or group (other than a political committee or candidate) who makes independent political contributions or expenditures exceeding $ 100 in a calendar year, other than by contribution to a political committee or candidate, to file a statement with the Commission; and (d) provide for the public financing from general revenues of Presidential nominating conventions, general election campaigns, and primary campaigns, with the principal portion of public funds being allocated to "major" political parties (parties receiving 25% or more of the vote in the most recent Presidential election) and their candidates. The district court and Court of Appeals sustained the constitutionality of the appointment of members of the Federal Election Commission by officers of Congress.


Is the limitation on campaign expenditures unconstitutional?




The Court found that the individual and political committee contribution limits, the disclosure and reporting provisions, and the public financing scheme were justified by weighty interests in restricting influences stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contributions. The Court held, however, that the limitations on campaign expenditures were unconstitutional because they placed substantial and direct restrictions on the ability of candidates, citizens, and associations to engage in political expression that was protected by the First Amendment. The Court found thatU.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 2, required that most of the powers conferred by the Act upon the Commission could be exercised only by officers of the United States. The court held that the Commission's present membership was invalid.

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