Politics and Money

2012-08-16 16:18:38

The relationship of money to politics has always been conceded and so, too, the effect on speech of restricting political money. The relationship became a source of active contention when, in the latter half of the last century, the Congress enacted comprehensive campaign finance controls to address corruption or its appearance. Many states rapidly followed suit. Those restrictions included strict limits on contributions to candidates and on spending by political parties. Long-standing prohibitions on union and corporate spending were strengthened, and public disclosure requirements were tightened and extended.

The Supreme Court subsequently heard a number of claims that this expansive regulation of political money undermined the right to speech and association. In Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), the Court held that some limits, such as limits on how much of their own money candidates could spend, indeed infringed on those rights. The Court distinguished for constitutional purposes between ‘‘contributions’’ to candidates—which it termed ‘‘speech by proxy’’ and hence entitled to lesser constitutional protection—and more fully protected ‘‘expenditures.’’

Congress has since enacted additional restrictions, including restrictions on ‘‘soft money’’—certain monies raised and spent by parties for general party activities. When this law was challenged, the Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC, 124 S.Ct. 619 (2003), appeared to adopt a more permissive test for regulation than the one favored by the Buckley Court. By 2003, when this case was decided, the law had perceptibly shifted in favor of those who would strike the balance between political regulation and speech more in favor of the former.


References and Further Reading

  • Drew, Elizabeth. Politics and Money. 1983.
  • Hasen, Richard L. Supreme Court and Election Law: Judging Equality from Baker v. Carr to Bush v. Gore. 2003.
  • Redish, Martin H. Money Talks: Speech, Economic Power and the Values of Democracy. 2001.
  • Sorauf, Frank J. Inside Campaign Finance: Myths and Realities. 1994.

Cases and Statutes Cited