Buckley v. Valeo

LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 75-436
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 424 US 1 (1976)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1975
DECIDED: Jan 30, 1976

Archibald Cox - Argued the cause for the appellees
Brice M. Clagett - Argued the cause for the appellants
Daniel M. Friedman - Argued the cause for the appellees
Joel M. Gora - Argued the cause for the appellants
Lloyd N. Cutler - Argued the cause for the appellees
Ralph S. Spritzer - Argued the cause for the appellees
Ralph K. Winter, Jr. -

Facts of the case

In the wake of the Watergate affair, Congress attempted to ferret out corruption in political campaigns by restricting financial contributions to candidates. Among other things, the law set limits on the amount of money an individual could contribute to a single campaign and it required reporting of contributions above a certain threshold amount. The Federal Election Commission was created to enforce the statute.


Did the limits placed on electoral expenditures by the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and related provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech and association clauses?

Media for Buckley v. Valeo

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1975 (Part 2) in Buckley v. Valeo
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1975 (Part 1) in Buckley v. Valeo

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 30, 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo

Warren E. Burger:

I have the per curiam opinion and judgment to announce on behalf of the Court in Buckley against Valeo, 75-436 and 75-437.

The question before the Court in these cases is the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 as amended in 1974.

The Federal Election Campaign Act governs financial aspects of campaigns for federal offices.

It limits contribution to candidates and committees.

It limits expenditures relative to a clearly identified candidate.

It limits expenditures by a candidate from his personal or family funds.

It restricts overall general election and primary campaign expenditures.

It requires political committees to keep detailed records of contributions and expenditures including the names and addresses of each individual contributor in excess of $10 and the name, address, occupation and principal place of business of all contributors contributing in excessive $100.

Political committees must file quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission, disclosing the source of every contribution exceeding $100 and the recipient and purpose of every expenditure in excess of $100.

Every individual or group other than a candidate or political committee making contributions or expenditures in excess of $100, other than by contribution to a political committee or candidate must file a statement with the Commission.

The Act creates an eight-member commission with record keeping, disclosure and investigatory functions and with rule making, adjudicatory, and enforcement powers.

The Commission consists of two members appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, two by the Speaker of the House, and two by the President of the United States, all subject to confirmation by both Houses of the Congress.

The Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House are ex officio nonvoting members of the Commission.

Subtitle H of the Internal Revenue Code as amended in 1974, provides for public financing of Presidential nominating conventions and general elections and primary campaigns from a fund created by an optional checkoff system under which each tax payer may on filing his or her tax return, indicate approval of placing $1 of general tax revenue into the fund for the purposes of the Act.

The resulting amount is allocated for the funding of conventions and presidential election campaigns.

Subtitle H establishes three categories of political parties; major parties, minor parties, and new parties.

Major parties as defined in Subtitle H and their candidates are entitled to funding for nominating conventions and general election campaigns.

Minor parties and candidates receive a percentage of the major party entitlement.

Candidates of new parties receive the funds only after the general election.

Primary candidate for the presidential nomination by a major political party who receives more than $5,000 from private sources, counting only the first $250 of each contribution, in each of 20 States, is eligible for matching public funds.

The appellants in these cases sought declaratory and injunctive relief against these statutory provisions on various constitutional grounds.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on certified questions from the District Court, sustained in all but one of the statutory provisions.

The three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of Subtitle H.

I am authorized to announce on behalf of the Court the following judgment.

The Court holds that this litigation presents an Article III case or controversy since the complaint discloses that at least some of the appellants have a sufficient personal stake in the determination of the constitutional validity of each of the challenge provisions, specifically now as to the contribution and expenditure limitations.

The Court holds that the Act's contribution provisions are constitutional as appropriate legislative measures to deal with the reality and appearance of improper influence stemming from the dependence of candidates on large campaign contributions.

The Court holds that the contribution limits do not directly impinge upon the rights of individual citizens and candidates to engage in political debate and discussion.

The Court holds that the expenditure provisions, the expenditure limitations are violative of First Amendment guarantees and they are unconstitutional.

Those provisions place substantial and direct restrictions on the ability of candidates, of citizens, and associations to engage in political expression that is protected by the First Amendment.

As to the disclosure provisions, the Court holds as follows.