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McConnell v. Federal Election Commission

    Brief Fact Summary.  

    Congress enacted the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) to cover the loopholes left in the first statute, The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) that sought to control federal election campaign contributions.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.  

     Under the BCRA federal candidates and national party committees may not use soft-money funding for federal election campaigns.

    Facts. The FECA sought to control contributions to federal election candidates. Electoral committees found loopholes to these rules. One of the biggest loopholes is what is called soft-money. Soft-money is money given to a national party that would use the money for activities intended to influence state or local elections. For example; paying for election advertising, giving money to organizations that would run election activities, and money given just to the national party but not the actual federal candidate.  The BCRA is an amendment to that act which directly addresses the use of soft-money donations. Money used to express an idea has long been held a right under the First Amendment Freedom of Speech. Plaintiffs bring this case stating that such restrictions on soft-money are a violation of that right.

     

    Issue.  

      Whether restrictions on soft-money contributions to national party committees violates the First Amended Freedom of Speech.

    Held.  No. While a complete ban on donations and advertising would violate such rights, restrictions on contributions and advertising does not affect the right of Freedom of Speech. The BCRA only marginally impacts the ability of contributors, candidates, officeholders and parties to engage in effective political speech. The act only limits the source and individual amount of donations. Individuals are only allowed to donate a certain amount and that amount must be registered. As to advertising the original statute only stated that express advocacy must not be funded. The BCRA states that express and issue advocacy must not be funded. While the plaintiff argues that this distinction is unconstitutional we find that a restriction that requires corporations to use PCA money towards all types of advertising is not vague or overly broad. Simply Congress established two types of advertising and now wishes that all advertising enjoy the same restrictions when it comes to donations. Also the reasoning behind this act meets the scrutiny that all Freedom of Speech legislation must adhere to. Soft-money donations have a corrupting influence or have the appearance of corruption. Candidates must vote on important issues and should not have the pressure of those who donated to his or her election weigh in on his or her decision on votes.

    Dissent.  Funds given to national parties do not all go to elections. Also while Congress is afraid that bribery laws on point will not be enough to discourage such activities, there are less restrictive mean that should be explored instead of this complete restriction on campaign donations. Also Freedom of Speech should always be tested with the highest level of scrutiny, not the lower level as used in the majority decision.

    Concurrence.  

     

    Discussion.  

    The court found the issue of airtime for candidates to be a nonjusticiable point of law, and invaliding the section of the BCRA that restricted person 17 and younger from making donations. All persons enjoy the Freedom of Speech, regardless of age.


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