Brief Fact Summary. This case considers the Federal Election and Campaign Act of 1971 (amended in 1974) (the Act), which allowed for the regulation of campaign contributions and expenditures.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case revisits O’Brien, which held that governmental interest outweighed First Amendment freedom of speech when a citizen was punished for burning a draft card. The Court looked to that rule, to develop the rule here, which is that there is not a significant governmental interest at stake to justify limitations on contribution and expenditure limitations in campaigns.
Issue. This case considers whether contributions and expenditures are comparable to restrictions on conduct, which were upheld in O’Brien, when there is a compelling governmental interest, which outweighs the expression. In O’Brien, restrictions on conduct were upheld, when governmental interest outweighed the individual’s interest in free expression. This case deals with whether that rule should necessarily extend to campaign expenditures and contribution limitations.
Held. The court looked at Contributions and Expenditures separately, in determining how they affect the campaign process.
Contribution Limitations. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) found that the contribution limitations were not unconstitutional on their face and they could be justified because of the problem with large campaign contributions and their potential for corruption of the campaign process.
Expenditure Limitations. The Supreme Court held that expenditure limitations on candidates were only restraints on the quantity of political speech. The amount a candidate could spend has an impact on the quality of his message. Thus, limiting his expenditures could have a suppressive effect on his political speech. While these limitations appear to be designed to reduce campaign costs, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution) does not allow the government to determine how one should promote their political views or how much they should spend in doing so. Therefore, expenditure limitations are not permissible conduct regulation, under the rules of O’Brien, which are outlined, above.
Discussion. The contribution of money to a campaign and the ways in which a campaign spends its funds are political speech in and of themselves. When considering campaign funds, the governmental interest in any limitation must be held to the harshest scrutiny against the First Amendment freedom of expression.