Supreme Court overturns Millionaire’s Amendment

The Supreme Court overturned the so-called Millionaire’s Amendment provision of the "McCain-Feingold" campaign finance law in a decision issued by the court today.

"The First Amendment secured an important victory today," said Bradley A. Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which filed an amicus brief in the case.  "The Court reaffirmed that Congress cannot use campaign finance regulations to ‘level the playing field.’"

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, declared that "the argument that a candidate’s speech may be restricted in order to ‘level electoral opportunities’ has ominous implications."

"The Court’s decision has ramifications beyond the ‘Millionaire’s Amendment,’ Smith said. "It also calls into question state public financing laws that effectively penalize candidates who choose to fund their campaigns with voluntary, private contributions. And it makes an important reaffirmation of the privacy rights of citizens, noting that compelled disclosure can only be imposed when justified by a compelling state interest."

The Millionaires’ Amendment increased contribution limits for candidates facing self-financed opponents by at least 300 percent. The provision also relaxed coordination restrictions with state and national political party committees for the self-funder’s opponent and imposed additional reporting requirements upon the self-financing candidate.

Alito, in overturning the asymmetrical contribution and coordinated party expenditure limits, wrote that both provisions were "antithetical to the First Amendment." Because the Court ruled that asymmetrical contribution limits are unconstitutional, it also rejected the disclosure requirements.

For over 30 years, since Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court has rejected the notion that the government can justify limits on speech in order to ‘equalize’ campaigns. Rather, the government must have a compelling interest – such as preventing corruption – to justify any type of campaign finance regulation. But the Millionaire’s Amendment, writes Justice Alito, “is not justified by any governmental interest in eliminating corruption or the perception of corruption.”

"Instead, the Millionaire’s Amendment relied on an unrecognized justification – that government can level the playing field between candidates," Smith explained.  "Such a concept is wholly foreign to the First Amendment. Congress is not allowed to tinker with people’s speech rights because it thinks some people are speaking too much, or others not enough."

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.