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Campaign finance reform ruling takes it to the limits (Buckley v. Valeo)

Quimbee Buckley v. Valeo

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In 1974, in response to the Watergate scandal, Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act to limit campaign contributions and independent expenditures in support of federal political candidates. In addition, Congress established the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to enforce the amendments.

A group of political parties and candidates challenged the law on First Amendment grounds in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976). They asserted that political contributions and expenditures were forms of political speech, and thus the amendments abridged the freedom of expression. They also argued that the FEC appointment procedures violated the Appointments Clause of Article II.

The United States Supreme Court took up the case to decide whether the contribution and expenditure limits were unconstitutional burdens on free expression. In a per curiam opinion, the Court concluded that although campaign contributions were a form of political speech, preventing corruption was a sufficiently important government interest to warrant the limitation.

But the Court concluded the cap on independent expenditures went too far. The FEC appointment procedures also failed to pass constitutional muster. Buckley remains a landmark case, as its impact on campaign-finance laws is still felt today.

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