Brief Fact Summary. Certain key provisions of the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) were challenged as unconstitutional.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The government may not restrict expenditures in political campaigns because such expenditures are forms of political expression protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, the government may impose restrictions on the amount of a person’s contributions to political campaigns.
Issue. Whether limiting contributions to political campaigns is constitutional?
Whether limiting expenditures in political campaigns is constitutional?
Held. Yes. The Act is aimed in part at equalizing the relative ability of all voters to affect electoral outcomes by placing a ceiling on expenditures for political expression by groups and citizens. A limitation on contributions, thus, involves little direct restraint on political communication, for it permits the symbolic expression of support evidenced by a contribution, but does not in any way infringe on the contributor’s freedom to discuss candidates and issues. There is no evidence that supports the claim that contribution limitations do discriminate against major-party challengers to incumbents. Therefore, limiting contributions to political campaigns is constitutional.
No. FECA’s expenditure ceilings impose direct and substantial restraints on the quality of political speech. It is clear that the primary effect of these expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of speech. While neutral as to the ideas expressed, the restrictions limit political expression “at the core of our electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms.” No governmental interest that has been suggested is sufficient to justify these restrictions on the quantity of political expression. In the free society ordained by our constitution, it is not the government but the people who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign. Thus, the First Amendment of the Constitution requires the invalidation of the Act’s expenditure ceilings because those provisions place substantial and direct restrictions on this protected political expression.
Dissent. The expenditure limitations do not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The contribution restrictions should not be upheld because there is no connection between limits on contributions and limits on expenditures.
There should be a limit on how much an individual candidate is allowed to spend on his campaign from his own funds.
Concurrence. The Court is correct in holding that the expenditure limits are unconstitutional. However, the limits on the contributions are also unconstitutional.
Discussion. The Court assumed that the FECA implicated the First Amendment in it holding that expenditure ceilings are unconstitutional because such restrictions substantially restrain the quality of free speech while serving no valid interest. However, the Court bifurcated its decision by finding that limiting contributions to political campaigns is constitutional since it has a valid goal of equalizing the voters’ abilities to affect the voting process.