What is McConnell v. Federal Election Commission?
In the early portion of 2002, a multi-year effort by Senators Russel Feingold and John Mccain to reform the way that money is raised and spent for political campaigns culminated in the passing of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002. The key provisions of this legislation are as follows:
· The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 placed a ban on soft money, which are unrestricted donations made directly to political parties. These donations were often made by unions, corporations or wealthy individuals
· The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 set limits on the advertising that corporations, non-profit organizations and unions could engage in up to 60 days before the election
· The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 placed restrictions on the use of funds for advertising on behalf of candidates.
The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 contained a unique provision that provided for an early federal trial and direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court. This provision bypassed the typical federal judicial process. The case of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission began when a special three-judge panel struck down portions of the act’s ban on soft-money donations and upheld some of the bill’s restrictions on the forms of advertising that the political parties may engage in. The initial ruling of McConnel v. Federal Election Commission stayed in place until the Supreme Court was eligible to hear and decide on the resulting appeals.
McConnel v. Federal Election Commission: The Question
The primary question in McConnel v. Federal Election Commission was: Does the ban of soft money exceed Congress’s authority to regulate elections according to Article 1, Section 4 to the United States Constitution. And moreover, does the bill violate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech?
McConnel v. Federal Election Commission: The Decision
The decision of McConnel v. Federal Election Commission was a split vote: with a few exceptions the Court answered “no” to both questions in a 5 to 4 vote. The decision of McConnel v. Federal Election Commission was rendered because the regulations dealt primarily with soft-money contributions that were made as a means to register voters and increase attendance at the polls. Therefore, the decision of McConnel v. Federal Election Commission viewed soft money contributions as a means to boost voting numbers not as a source of campaign expenditures. Moreover, the court in McConnel v. Federal Election Commission ruled that the restriction on free speech was marginal.
The Supreme Court then found that the restriction in McConnel v. Federal Election Commission was justified by the federal government’s interest in preventing corruption spawned by large financial contributions. In response to questions of broadness, the Court found that such regulations were necessary to prevent interest groups from circumventing the law. Several justices on the Supreme Court believed that the government was justified in taking steps to impede schemes from developing to bypass the rules placed on contribution limits.
Additionally in McConnel v. Federal Election Commission, the court rejected the argument that Congress exceeded its powers to regulate elections under Article 1, Section 4 to the United States Constitution. The court ruled that the law only affected state elections where federal candidates were involved.