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The United States Supreme Court has never upheld the constitutionality of a law that imposes different contribution limits for candidates who are competing against each other, and the scheme under 2 U.S.C.S. § 441a-1(a) impermissibly burdens a candidate's First Amendment right to spend his own money for campaign speech.
The candidate, who had run for the House of Representatives using mostly personal funds, challenged § 441a-1(a) of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which raised the limit on individual contributions that non-self-financing candidates could receive if their opponents' expenditure of personal funds exceeded a certain amount. According to the candidate, § 441a-1(a) violated the First Amendment. The candidate also challenged the related disclosure requirements of § 441a-1(b). The district court granted summary judgment for the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The candidate appealed directly to the Supreme Court pursuant to 2 U.S.C.S. § 437h note.
Were § 441a-1(a) and § 441a-1(b) of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 unconstitutional?
The Supreme Court held that the candidate had standing even though his opponent did not take advantage of the asymmetrical contribution limits; the candidate faced prospective injury when he filed suit. The failure to resolve the case before the election did not moot the matter, which was capable of repetition. Section 441a-1(a) violated the First Amendment because it imposed a substantial burden on the right to use personal funds for campaign speech and was not justified by a compelling state interest. The asymmetrical limits did not operate to prevent corruption, and a desire to level electoral opportunities for candidates of different personal wealth was not a legitimate government objective. The § 441a-1(b) disclosure requirements were designed to implement § 441a-1(a) and therefore also were unconstitutional.