Buckley et al. v. Valeo
Decided on Jan. 30, 1976; 424 US 1

The Court stated that "reasonable restrictions" on individual, corporate and group contributions to political candidates were permissible but disallowed limits on campaign expenditures because they "place substantial and direct restrictions" on protected political expression.



A. Issues Discussed:  Election, political contribution

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does the Federal Election Campaign Act, as amended in 1974, violate First Amendment rights and is it constitutional?


A. Background:

"The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (Act), as amended in 1974, (a) limits political contributions to candidates for federal elective office by an individual or a group to $1,000 and by a political committee to $5,000 to any single candidate per election, with an overall annual limitation of $25,000 by an individual contributor; (b) limits expenditures by individuals or groups 'relative to a clearly identified candidate' to $1,000 per candidate per election, and by a candidate from his personal or family funds to various specified annual amounts depending upon the federal office sought, and restricts overall general election and primary campaign expenditures by candidates to various specified amounts, again depending upon the federal office sought; (c) requires political committees to keep detailed records of contributions and expenditures, including the name and address of each individual contributing in excess of $10, and his occupation and principal place of business if his contribution exceeds $100, and to file quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission disclosing the source of every contribution exceeding $100 and the recipient and purpose of every expenditure over $100, and also requires every individual or group, other than a candidate or political committee, making contributions or expenditures exceeding $100 'other than by contribution to a political committee or candidate' to file a statement with the Commission; and (d) creates the eight-member Commission as the administering agency with recordkeeping, disclosure, and investigatory functions and extensive rulemaking, adjudicatory, and enforcement powers, and consisting of two members appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, two by the Speaker of the House, and two by the President (all subject to confirmation by both Houses of Congress), and the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House as ex officio nonvoting members.

Subtitle H of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (IRC), as amended in 1974, provides for public financing of Presidential nominating conventions and general election and primary campaigns from general revenues and allocates such funding to conventions and general election campaigns by establishing three categories: (1) 'major' parties (those whose candidate received 25% or more of the vote in the most recent election), which receive full funding, (2) "minor" parties (those whose candidate received at least 5% but less than 25% of the votes at the last election), which receive only a percentage of the funds to which the major parties are entitled; and (3) 'new' parties (all other parties), which are limited to receipt of post-election funds or are not entitled to any funds if their candidate receives less than 5% of the vote. A primary candidate for the Presidential nomination by a political party who receives more than $5,000 from private sources (counting only the first $250 of each contribution) in each of at least 20 States is eligible for matching public funds. Appellants (various federal officeholders and candidates, supporting political organizations, and others) brought suit against appellees (the Secretary of the Senate, Clerk of the House, Comptroller General, Attorney General, and the Commission) seeking declaratory and injective relief against the above statutory provisions on various constitutional grounds. The Court of Appeals, on certified questions from the District Court, upheld all but one of the statutory provisions. A three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of Subtitle H."

On appeal the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Thomas F. Monaghan filed a brief for James B. Longley as amicus curiae urging reversal. Briefs of amici curiae were filed by Jerome B. Falk, Jr., Daniel H. Lowenstein, Howard F. Sachs, and Guy L. Heinemann for the California Fair Political Practices Commission et al.; by Lee Metcalf, pro se, and G. Roger King for Mr. Metcalf; by Vincent Hallinan for the Socialist Labor Party; by Marguerite M. Buckley for the Los Angeles County Central Committee of the Peace and Freedom Party; and by the Committee for Democratic Election Laws.

Ralph K. Winter, Jr., pro hac vice, Joel M. Gora, and [424 U.S. 1, 6] Brice M. Clagett argued the cause for appellants. With them on the briefs was Melvin L. Wulf.

Mr. Cox filed a brief for Hugh Scott et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.

Deputy Solicitor General Friedman, Archibald Cox, Lloyd N. Cutler, and Ralph S. Spritzer argued the cause for appellees. With Mr. Friedman on the brief for appellees Levi and the Federal Election Commission were Attorney General Levi, pro se, Solicitor General Bork, and Louis F. Claiborne. With Mr. Cutler on the brief for appellees Center for Public Financing of Elections et al. were Paul J. Mode, Jr., William T. Lake, Kenneth J. Guido, Jr., and Fred Wertheimer. With Mr. Spritzer on the brief for appellee Federal Election Commission was Paul Bender. Attorney General Levi, pro se, Solicitor General Bork, and Deputy Solicitor General Randolph filed a brief for appellee Levi and for the United States as amicus curiae.

"1) The Act's contribution provisions are constitutional, but the expenditure provisions violate the First Amendment.

(a) The contribution provisions, along with those covering disclosure, are appropriate legislative weapons against the reality or appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contributions, and the ceilings imposed accordingly serve the basic governmental interest in safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process without directly impinging upon the rights of individual citizens and candidates to engage in political debate and discussion.

(b) The First Amendment requires the invalidation of the Act's independent expenditure ceiling, its limitation on a candidate's expenditures from his own personal funds, and its ceilings on overall campaign expenditures, since those provisions place substantial and direct restrictions on the ability of candidates, citizens, and associations to engage in protected political expression, restrictions that the First Amendment cannot tolerate.

2) The Act's disclosure and recordkeeping provisions are constitutional.

(a) The general disclosure provisions, which serve substantial governmental interests in informing the electorate and preventing the corruption of the political process, are not overbroad insofar as they apply to contributions to minor parties and independent candidates. No blanket exemption for minor parties is warranted since such parties in order to prove injury as a result of application to them of the disclosure provisions need show only a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure of a party's contributors' names will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals in violation of their First Amendment associational rights.

(b) The provision for disclosure by those who make independent contributions and expenditures, as narrowly construed to apply only (1) when they make contributions earmarked for political purposes or authorized or requested by a candidate or his agent to some person other than a candidate or political committee and (2) when they make an expenditure for a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate is not unconstitutionally vague and does not constitute a prior restraint but is a reasonable and minimally restrictive method of furthering First Amendment values by public exposure of the federal election system.

(c) The extension of the recordkeeping provisions to contributions as small as those just above $10 and the disclosure provisions to contributions above $100 is not on this record overbroad since it cannot be said to be unrelated to the informational and enforcement goals of the legislation.

3) Subtitle H of the IRC is constitutional.

(a) Subtitle H is not invalid under the General Welfare Clause but, as a means to reform the electoral process, was clearly a choice within the power granted to Congress by the Clause to decide which expenditures will promote the general welfare.

(b) Nor does Subtitle H violate the First Amendment. Rather than abridging, restricting, or censoring speech, it represents an effort to use public money to facilitate and enlarge public discussion and participation in the electoral process.

(c) Subtitle H, being less burdensome than ballot-access regulations and having been enacted in furtherance of vital governmental interests in relieving major-party candidates from the rigors of soliciting private contributions, in not funding candidates who lack significant public support, and in eliminating reliance on large private contributions for funding of conventions and campaigns, does not invidiously discriminate against minor and new parties in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

(d) Invalidation of the spending-limit provisions of the Act does not render Subtitle H unconstitutional, but the Subtitle is severable from such provisions and is not dependent upon the existence of a generally applicable expenditure limit.

4) The Commission's composition as to all but its investigative and informative powers violates Art. II, 2, cl. 2. With respect to the Commission's powers, all of which are ripe for review, to enforce the Act, including primary responsibility for bringing civil actions against violators, to make rules for carrying out the Act, to temporarily disqualify federal candidates for failing to file required reports, and to authorize convention expenditures in excess of the specified limits, the provisions of the Act vesting such powers in the Commission and the prescribed method of appointment of members of the Commission to the extent that a majority of the voting members are appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, violate the Appointments Clause, which provides in pertinent part that the President shall nominate, and with the Senate's advice and consent appoint, all 'Officers of the United States,' whose appointments are not otherwise provided for, but that Congress may vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as it deems proper, in the President alone, in the courts, or in the heads of departments. Hence (though the Commission's past acts are accorded de facto validity and a stay is granted permitting it to function under the Act for not more than 30 days), the Commission, as presently constituted, may not because of that Clause exercise such powers, which can be exercised only by 'Officers of the United States' appointed in conformity with the Appointments Clause, although it may exercise such investigative and informative powers as are in the same category as those powers that Congress might delegate to one of its own committees."

The US Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 1 Con
  • Brennan, W.Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Burger, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro/con (Joined majority opinion in part, wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stevenes, J.P. Took no part in the decision

The ACLU, as a party, urged reversal of the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; the Supreme Court in a per curiam decision affirmed in part and reversed in part in a 7-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win .