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Buckley v. Valeo

Citation. 424 U.S. 1 (1976)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Appellant argues that the Act at issue seeks to restrict First Amendment liberty by placing a limit on contributions and expenditures, which are at the very core of political speech.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Independent expenditure ceiling on political campaigns fails to serve any substantial government interest and heavily burdens core First Amendment expression.


The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and related provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 provide that individual political contributions are limited to $1,000 to any single candidate per election; contributions and expenditures above certain threshold levels must be reported and publicly disclosed; a system for public funding of Presidential campaign activities is established by the Internal Revenue Code; and a Federal Election Commission is established to administer and enforce the legislation.


Does the federal Act that places a limit on contributions and expenditures for political campaigns violate the First Amendment?


No, the individual contribution limits, the disclosure and reporting provisions, and the public financing scheme are constitutional. However, the limitations on campaign expenditures, on independent expenditures by individuals and groups, and on expenditures by a candidate from his personal funds are constitutionally invalid.


Justice Burger

The public monies at issue here are not being employed simply to police the integrity of the electoral process or to provide a forum for the use of all participants in the political dialogue. Rather, we are confronted with the Government’s actual financing, out of general revenues, a segment of the political debate itself. There is nothing politically incestuous about the Government financing. The inappropriateness of subsidizing, from general revenues, the actual political dialogue of the people is as basic to our national tradition as the separation of church and state also deriving from the First Amendment.


The Act’s expenditure ceilings impose direct and substantial restraints on the quantity of political speech. The most drastic of the limitations restricts individuals and groups, including political parties that fail to place a candidate on the ballot, to an expenditure of $1,000 relative to a clearly identified candidate during a calendar year. A primary effect of these expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of campaign speech by individuals, groups and candidates. The restrictions, while neutral as to the ideas expressed, limit political expression at the core of our electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms. The governmental interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption is inadequate to justify the Act’s ceiling on independent expenditures. So long as persons and groups eschew expenditures that in express terms advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, they are free to spend as much as they want to promote the candidate and his views. The Act limits expenditures for express advocacy of candidates made totally independently of the candidate and his campaign. This undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate, and rather than preventing circumvention of the contribution limitations, the Act severely restricts all independent advocacy despite its substantially diminished potential for abuse.

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