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Buckley v. Valeo

Significance

Buckley v. Valeo reshaped campaign finance laws entirely. Perhaps the most significant change, however, was the Court's ruling that there could be no restrictions on contributions from individuals and groups, so long as they were independent of any official election campaigns. This ruling gave rise to a profusion of political action committees (PACs).

In 1974, Congress amended the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, and various candidates for political office, joined by some other politically active groups and individuals, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in an attempt to prevent the amendments from affecting the 1976 election. The suit raised a variety of complex constitutional questions, which both a three-judge panel from the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard jointly. The constitutional attacks on FECA were rejected, so Buckley and the other appellants took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court's opinion was unsigned, and five of the justices dissented to various parts of it, but in various configurations, the participating members of the Court agreed on certain basic issues. To begin, the Court struck down a provision of the new law which permitted Congress to select a majority of the members of the Federal Election Commission, the body set up to administer the FECA. Since the Appointments Clause of Article I of the Constitution gave such power to the president, this provision was a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers, which prevents each of the three branches of the federal government from assuming a responsibility that properly belongs to one of the other branches.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Buckley v. Valeo - Decision, Significance, Court Distinguished Campaign Contributions From Expenditures