High court strikes states campaign fund limits. Read official syallbus.

The U.S. Supreme Court found that Vermont’s restrictions amounted to government censorship, violating the free speech of candidates. 

WASHINGTON.  A bold experiment in Vermont that sought to address the often thorny connection between money and politics has come to an end.
On Monday, the US Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the most controversial aspects of Vermont’s campaign-finance law – including restrictions on the amount of money candidates for public office may spend in their campaigns.
REJECTED: Vermont’s Attorney General William Sorrell said campaign-spending limits helped politicians focus on issues rather than fundraising.
 
The court said the restrictions amounted to a form of government censorship of political candidates in violation of the free-speech protections of the First Amendment.

The high court also struck down the state’s limitations on the amount of money individuals may contribute to political candidates. The court ruled that the limits were too low.

The 6-to-3 decision is consistent with a 1976 landmark ruling in a case called Buckley v. Valeo in which the court struck down an attempt by Congress to limit campaign spending by candidates. The same 1976 ruling upheld the ability of government to restrict the amount of money contributed by political supporters to candidates.

The highly splintered opinion tracks the basic approach to campaign finance followed by the court over the past 30 years. But only three justices embraced it, although three others concurred in the judgment.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said they would overturn the Buckley v. Valeo precedent in favor of a regime more protective of speech. In a dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said he would overturn the Buckley precedent to enable government more leeway in establishing campaign-finance safeguards.

The decision marks a setback to campaign-finance reform advocates who had seen the opportunity to shift the paradigm of campaign finance away from a view that money is speech toward a focus on the quality of political competition.

“In many ways, it is a lost opportunity for the court to address the arms race in campaign funding,” says Brenda Wright of the National Voting Rights Institute.

In invalidating the Vermont contribution limits, the court said it was leaving it to the Vermont legislature to rewrite its campaign-contribution regulations “in light of the constitutional difficulties we have identified.”

How the justices see it

The court’s splintered roster on the broader Buckley issue suggests no shortage of future litigation.

“We can find here no … special justification that would require us to overrule Buckley,” writes Justice Stephen Breyer in his plurality decision. “Subsequent case law has not made Buckley a legal anomaly or otherwise undermined its basic legal principles.”

In a concurrence joined by Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas writes: “I continue to believe that Buckley provides insufficient protection to political speech, the core of the First Amendment.”

He adds, “The illegitimacy of Buckley is further underscored by the continuing inability of the court [and a plurality here] to apply Buckley in a coherent and principled fashion.”

In contrast, Justice Stevens, in a lone dissent, also says the time has arrived to overturn Buckley. But he cites entirely different reasons than those mentioned by Justice Thomas. “I am firmly persuaded that the Framers would have been appalled by the impact of modern fundraising practices on the ability of elected officials to perform their public responsibilities,” he writes. “I think they would have viewed federal statutes limiting the amount of money that congressional candidates might spend in future elections as well within Congress’ authority.”

The high-court decision stems from nearly seven years of litigation challenging Act 64, Vermont’s 1997 campaign-finance reform law. The law took effect for only a brief time before it was enjoined pending the outcome of the lawsuits.

State lawmakers conducted 65 hearings and heard testimony from 145 witnesses about the difficulties and dangers of the campaign-finance system in Vermont.

The lawmakers concluded that electioneering in Vermont was becoming too expensive. Many ordinary Vermonters were being priced out of politics, and those involved in politics were spending increasing amounts of their time raising money for their next campaign.

Opponents said the campaign-finance restrictions were hindering candidates’ ability to communicate with voters in violation of the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and association.

In the past, such government campaign-finance restrictions have been justified in an attempt to prevent corruption of the political process by wealthy contributors literally buying favorable votes. The courts have also recognized that the government has a compelling interest in preventing the appearance of such corruption, even if actual quid pro quo corruption is not present.

Limits for candidates and donors

Vermont took this concern one step further. Rather than buying votes, large political contributions in Vermont were buying access and influence, state lawmakers said. Act 64 sought to reduce this access and influence by limiting both the intake and outflow of money in political campaigns in Vermont.

Under the law, a candidate for governor could spend no more than $300,000 during a two-year election cycle. The spending limit was $45,000 for other statewide offices. State senators were restricted to spending no more than $4,000 in their reelection campaigns. For state representatives, the limit was $2,000.

The law also restricted political contribution amounts at $200 to $400, the lowest level in the country.

It was all designed to reduce the power of money in the political process and foster a greater degree of equality among elected officials, candidates, and prospective candidates.

Opponents sued, claiming both the low contribution limits for donors and the expenditure limits for candidates had established a form of government censorship hindering the amount of political speech in Vermont. Act 64 also favored incumbents by making it more difficult for challengers to raise and spend large sums of money that might help them boost their name recognition among voters, opponents said.

They also argued that candidates must be free to choose how best to deliver their campaign message.

Vermont’s rules are ‘too restrictive’

In rejecting the contribution limits, Justice Breyer says the test is whether they are carefully drawn to achieve a compelling government goal while impacting a minimum amount of speech.

“Our examination of the record convinces us that, from a constitutional perspective, Act 64′s contribution limits are too restrictive,” Breyer writes. “We reach this conclusion based not merely on the low dollar amounts of the limits themselves, but also on the statute’s effect on political parties and on volunteer activity in Vermont elections.”

 By Warren Richey | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Syallbus released by the U.S. Supreme Court

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus
RANDALL ET AL. v. SORRELL ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT
No. 04–1528. Argued February 28, 2006—Decided June 26, 2006*
Vermont’s Act 64 stringently limits both the amounts that candidatesfor state office may spend on their campaigns and the amounts thatindividuals, organizations, and political parties may contribute tothose campaigns. Soon after Act 64 became law, the petitioners—individuals who have run for state office, citizens who vote in state elections and contribute to campaigns, and political parties and committees participating in state politics—brought this suit againstthe respondents, state officials charged with enforcing the Act. The District Court held that Act 64’s expenditure limits violate the First Amendment, see Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, and that the Act’s limits on political parties’ contributions to candidates were unconstitutional, but found the other contribution limits constitutional. The Second Circuit held that all of the Act’s contribution limits are constitutional, ruled that the expenditure limits may be constitutional because they are supported by compelling interests in preventing corruption or its appearance and in limiting the time state officials must spend raising campaign funds, and remanded for the District Court to determine whether the expenditure limits were narrowly tailored to those interests.
Held: The judgment is reversed, and the cases are remanded.
382 F. 3d 91, reversed and remanded. JUSTICE BREYER, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE ALITO, concluded in Parts I, II–B–3, III, and IV that both of Act 64’s sets of
limitations are inconsistent with the First Amendment. Pp. 6–8, 10–
29.
1. The expenditure limits violate the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees under Buckley. Pp. 6–8, 10–11.
                        (a) In Buckley, the Court held, inter alia, that the Government’s asserted interest in preventing “corruption and the appearance of corruption,? 424 U. S., at 25, provided sufficient justification for the contribution limitations imposed on campaigns for federal office bythe Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, id., at 23–38, but that FECA’s expenditure limitations violated the First Amendment, id., at 39–59. The Court explained that the difference between the twokinds of limitations is that expenditure limits “impose significantly more severe restrictions on protected freedoms of political expressionand association than? do contribution limits. Id., at 23. Contribution limits, though a “marginal restriction,? nevertheless leave the contributor “fre[e] to discuss candidates and issues.? Id., at 20–21. Expenditure limits, by contrast, impose “[a] restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication,? id., at 19, and thereby necessarily “reduc[e] the quantity of expression byrestricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached,? ibid. For over 30 years, inconsidering the constitutionality of a host of campaign finance statutes, this Court has adhered to Buckley’s constraints, including those on expenditure limits. See, e.g., McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U. S. 93, 134. Pp. 6–8.
                        (b) The respondents argue unpersuasively that Buckley should be distinguished from the present cases on a ground they say Buckley did not consider: that expenditure limits help to protect candidates from spending too much time raising money rather than devotingthat time to campaigning among ordinary voters. There is no significant basis for that distinction. Act 64’s expenditure limits are not substantially different from those at issue in Buckley. Nor is Vermont’s primary justification for imposing its expenditure limits significantly different from Congress’ rationale for the Buckley limits: preventing corruption and its appearance. The respondents say unpersuasively that, had the Buckley Court considered the time protection rationale for expenditure limits, the Court would have upheld those limits in the FECA. The Buckley Court, however, was aware of the connection between expenditure limits and a reduction in fund-raising time. And, in any event, the connection seems perfectly obvious. Under these circumstances, the respondents’ argument amounts to no more than an invitation so to limit Buckley’s holding as effectively to overrule it. That invitation is declined. Pp. 10–11.
 

2. Act 64’s contribution limits violate the First Amendment because
RANDALL v. SORRELL Syllabus
Amendment limits are present here. They are substantially lower than both the limits the Court has previously upheld and the comparable limits in force in other States. Consequently, the record must be examined to determine whether Act 64’s contribution limits are “closely drawn? to match the State’s interests. Pp. 13–19.
                        (c) The record demonstrates that, from a constitutional perspective, Act 64’s contribution limits are too restrictive. Five sets of factors, taken together, lead to the conclusion that those limits are notnarrowly tailored. First, the record suggests, though it does not conclusively prove, that Act 64’s contribution limits will significantly restrict the amount of funding available for challengers to run competitive campaigns. Second, Act 64’s insistence that a political party andall of its affiliates together abide by exactly the same low $200 to $400 contribution limits that apply to individual contributors threatens harm to a particularly important political right, the right to associate in a political party. See, e.g., California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U. S. 567, 574. Although the Court upheld federal limitson political parties’ contributions to candidates in Federal Election Comm’n v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm., 533 U. S. 431, the limits there at issue were far less problematic, for they were significantly higher than Act 64’s limits, see, e.g., id., at 438–439, and
                        n. 3, and they were much higher than the federal limits on contributions from individuals to candidates, see id., at 453. Third, Act 64’s treatment of volunteer services aggravates the problem. Althoughthe Act excludes uncompensated volunteer services from its “contribution? definition, it does not exclude the expenses volunteers incur, e.g., travel expenses, in the course of campaign activities. The combination of very low contribution limits and the absence of an exception excluding volunteer expenses may well impede a campaign’sability effectively to use volunteers, thereby making it more difficult for individuals to associate in this way. Cf. Buckley, supra, at 22. Fourth, unlike the contribution limits upheld in Shrink, Act 64’s limits are not adjusted for inflation, but decline in real value each year.A failure to index limits means that limits already suspiciously lowwill almost inevitably become too low over time. Fifth, nowhere in the record is there any special justification for Act 64’s low and restrictive contribution limits. Rather, the basic justifications the Statehas advanced in support of such limits are those present in Buckley.Indeed, other things being equal, one might reasonably believe that acontribution of, say, $250 (or $450) to a candidate’s campaign wasless likely to prove a corruptive force than the far larger contributions at issue in the other campaign finance cases the Court has considered. Pp. 19–28.
 

(d) It is not possible to sever some of the Act’s contribution limit
6 RANDALL v. SORRELL Syllabus Act 64 is unconstitutional, but disagreed with the plurality’s rationale for striking down that statute. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, provides insufficient protection to political speech, the core of the First Amendment, is therefore illegitimate and not protected by stare decisis, and should be overruled and replaced with a standard faithful to the Amendment. This Court erred in Buckley when it distinguished between contribution and expenditure limits, finding the former to be a less severe infringement on First Amendment rights.See, e.g., Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U. S. 377, 410–418. Both the contribution and expenditure restrictions of Act 64 should be subjected to strict scrutiny, which they would fail. See, e.g., Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm. v. Federal Election Comm’n, 518 U. S. 604, 640–641. Pp. 1–10.
BREYER, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered anopinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., joined, and in which ALITO, J., joined as to all but Parts II–B–1 and II–B–2. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which SCALIA, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined, and in which STEVENS, J., joined as to Parts II and
III.
 

 

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