Buckley v Valeo and Its Effect on Campaign Finance Laws
The United States Supreme Court’s decision in Buckley v Valeo in 1976 was a case which upheld federal laws that set limitations on contributions to campaigns, and also stated that this money was a form of protected free speech.
Buckley v Valeo created a main obstacle to effectively reforming campaign finance laws. The ruling in Buckley v Valeo accomplishes this in two ways:
• Stating that the money put into campaign contributions is equivalent with speech. This decision resulted in governments being prohibited from creating limitations on spending for candidates.
• Having the Supreme Court acknowledging that large contributions have corruptive potential and creating a cap. This made the ideal setting for the use of soft money that is unregulated and does not have to be reported or capped.
Background of Buckley v Valeo
Congress passed certain campaign finance reforms as a group of amendments to FECA, or the Federal Election Campaign Act. These measures were much more expansive and reaching in comparison to more recent attempts to regulate campaign finance today. The FECA amendments limited:
• Contributions from both individuals and political action committees to a candidate running for federal office
• Candidates expenditures from any personal or family resources
• Campaign expenditures as a whole
• Independent expenditures
After these FECA amendments were passed, a coalition developed who filed a suit in the federal court that said the new amendments were unconstitutional. They argued that limiting money use for political purposes was restricting a communication that was a part of the First Amendment.
Consequences of Buckley v Valeo
While the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the FECA amendments, including both the limits on individual as well as political action committee donations to candidates. Unfortunately, in Buckley v Valeo, it also declared that the mandatory limits placed on candidates who spent their own money, as well as limits on both independent expenditures and total campaign spending were violations of the Constitution’s First Amendment.
The United States Supreme Court did, however, rule in Buckley v Valeo that the campaign spending limits could be placed on candidates in exchange for the candidates’ voluntary acceptance of the use of public financing that was made available.
Many critics, including constitutional experts, feel that the principle of unlimited expenditures will always allude to suspicious activities. Other areas of both political and civic life experience governing by the principles of fairness, equality and due process before the law. The use of money in campaign finance does not work as well for citizens and individual as well as the money put in by corporations.