Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1; 96 S. Ct. 612; 46 L. Ed. 2d 659 (1976)

Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1; 96 S. Ct. 612; 46 L. Ed. 2d 659 (1976)

Facts—Congress passed in 1971, and in 1974 amended, the Federal Election Campaign Act. This act broadly attempted to limit individual political contributions to $1,000 to any single candidate with an overall annual limitation of $35,000 by any single contributor. It further required reporting and disclosure of contributions and expenditures above certain threshold levels; established a system of public financing of presidential campaigns; and created a Federal Election Commission.


(a) Does the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 violate the First Amendment’s freedom of communication and freedom of association?

(b) Do its subsidy provisions violate the general welfare clause?

(c) Does the Federal Election Commission as constituted violate the doctrine of the separation of powers?

Decisions—(a) No; (b) No; (c) Yes.

ReasonsPer Curiam. (Vote varied from one issue to another.) The Court held part of the Federal Election Campaign Act constitutional and part unconstitutional. Held constitutional under Congress’s power to regulate elections and prevent corruption, was the part that allowed Congress to set ceilings on political contributions as against the charge that the act violated the speech and associational provisions of the First Amendment and to provide public financing of presidential nominating conventions and primaries against the charge that it violated the general welfare clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 1). The part that set limits to independent political expenditures by individuals and groups is unconstitutional because it burdens the right of free speech as well as setting limits to the personal expenditures by the candidate himself. The Court also voided the method of nominating the members of the commission as violating the doctrine of separation of powers. “The act’s contributions and expenditure limitations,” said the Court, “impinge on protected associational freedoms. Making a contribution, like joining a political party, serves to affiliate a person with a candidate.” Although Congress can regulate elections it cannot “appoint those who are to administer the regulatory statute” in violation of the appointing clause.

Note—In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission 540 U.S. 93 (2003), the Court upheld provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001 (McCain-Feingold Act) that limited indirect “soft-money” contributions to campaigns.

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