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Buckley v. Valeo

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Significance: The Supreme Court held that Congress cannot limit the amount of money candidates for political office contribute to their own campaigns, although the Court permitted other limits on campaign spending.


This complex, confusing, unsigned Supreme Court opinion was a decision rendered by shifting groups of five justices on the several sections of the case that voided parts of the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act. Five out of eight justices actually dissented in part (Justice John Paul Stevens did not participate), so only three justices fully supported the decision. The Court struck down limits on how much individuals could contribute to their own campaigns as an improper infringement on free speech but upheld limits on what others could contribute directly to federal legislative campaigns. The Court also ruled unconstitutional Congress's plan to appoint a majority of the Federal Election Commission, stating that it violated the clause that reserved appointment power for the president. The Court approved public funding for campaigns but said that if a candidate accepted public funding, limits would be permissible. The Court allowed federal income tax checkoff funds for presidential primary candidates on a matching basis and for presidential general election candidates on a full-funding basis. In the 1985 case, Federal Election Commission v. the National Conservative Political Action Committee, the Court made it clear that limits could not be placed on those spending their own money independently to help a government-funded candidate.