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While § 323(a) (2 U.S.C.S. § 441i(a)) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, 2 U.S.C.S. § 431 et seq., as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, 116 Stat. 81, prohibits national parties from receiving or spending nonfederal money, and § 323(b) (2 U.S.C.S. § 441i(b)) prohibits state party committees from spending nonfederal money on federal election activities, neither provision in any way limits the total amount of money parties can spend. Rather, they simply limit the source and individual amount of donations. That they do so by prohibiting the spending of soft money does not render them expenditure limitations. Indeed, Congress structured § 323(b) in such a way as to free individual, corporate, and union donations to state committees for nonfederal elections from federal source and amount restrictions.
In enacting the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA)--which amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) (2 USCS §§ 431 et seq.), a Communications Act of 1934 provision (47 USCS § 315), and other federal statutory provisions--Congress primarily sought to address perceived problems associated with two things: (1) "soft money," i.e., contributions to political parties for such purposes as (a) activities intended to influence state or local elections, (b) mixed-purpose activities, such as get-out-the-vote drives and generic party advertising, and (c) legislative advocacy advertisements that did not expressly advocate a candidate's election or defeat; and (2) "issue ads," i.e., political advertisements that were specifically intended to affect election results, but did not contain certain "magic words," such as "Elect John Smith" or "Vote Against Jane Doe," which would have subjected the ads to FECA's existing restrictions. Title I of BCRA made it illegal for a political party's national committee to solicit, receive, direct, or spend any funds that were not subject to FECA's limitations, prohibitions, and reporting requirements. BCRA’s Title II primarily prohibited corporations and unions from using general treasury funds for communications that were intended to, or had the effect of, influencing federal election outcomes. Titles III, IV, and V set out various other requirements for contributions to political parties. Plaintiffs brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of campaign financing and political advertising restrictions imposed under the BCRA, alleging that the amendments violated, inter alia, their rights to freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment and were facially unconstitutional. A three-judge court held some portions of BCRA unconstitutional and upheld others. The parties appealed.
Were the amendments made by BCRA to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), 2 U.S.C.S. § 431 et seq., and the Communications Act of 1934, violative of the freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment?
No, except as to the imposition of limits on independent expenditures.
The Court found, inter alia, that the "soft" money prohibitions under 2 U.S.C.S. § 441i(a) were justified by Congress's desire to prevent the actual and apparent corruption of federal candidates and officeholders, and the restrictions under § 441i(b) on state and local party committees' use of soft money were necessary to prevent those committees' use as a conduit for soft money. Moreover, § 441i(d)'s limits on contributions to tax-exempt organizations applied only to funds not raised in compliance with FECA, and the restrictions under 2 U.S.C.S. § 434 did not have to be limited to "express advocacy" and could encompass issue advertising. The Court further found that recordkeeping requirements under 47 U.S.C.S. § 315(e) were virtually identical to existing regulations and were valid. However, the limits on independent expenditures under 2 U.S.C.S. § 441a(d)(4) were invalid. Accordingly, the district court's judgment was reversed insofar as it (1) found that BCRA's restrictions on soft money were unconstitutional, (2) struck down requirements for disclosure of executory contracts for political advertising, and (3) held unconstitutional BCRA's recordkeeping requirements. The judgment was otherwise affirmed.