2 U.S.C.S. § 437a, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), is susceptible to a reading necessitating reporting by groups whose only connection with the elective process arises from completely nonpartisan public discussion of issues of public importance. The government has demonstrated a substantial and legitimate interest in protecting the integrity of its elections in the other provisions of the FECA, an interest closely connected to and plainly advanced by those provisions. But § 437a seeks to compel disclosure by groups that do no more than discuss issues of public importance on a wholly nonpartisan basis, a point at which the nexus between the governmental interest and the challenged provisions may be more tenuous. The court attempts to construe a statute narrowly. Since the terms of § 437a inhibit free and robust discussion of issues, it is unconstitutional.
The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) promulgated limits on campaign contributions and expenditures, and in some cases, required disclosure of both to a newly-formed Federal Election Commission (FEC). Plaintiff Senator James Buckley, and others, challenged the legislation, seeking declaratory judgment on key provisions of the FECA. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia certified 28 constitutional questions under a special statutory provision for expedited judicial review.
Was the FECA unconstitutional?
No, except for 2 U.S.C.S. §437a.
The court ruled in upholding the FECA as a constitutional regulation to federal elections by abating abuses in the campaign process, except for one provision, 2 U.S.C.S. §437a, which was held to be an unconstitutional restraint on speech. According to the court, a limitation on the amount that a person or group may contribute to a candidate can create a marginal restriction upon the contributor’s ability to engage in free communication, because they are free to communicate directly to voters. Restrictions on contributions can impact political dialogue if these limitations prevented candidates and political committees from garnering enough resources for an effective advocacy.