WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme court struck down the so-called “Millionaire’s Amendment” to campaign-finance law, which allows some candidates to receive more individual campaign contributions than their richer, self-funded opponents. The justices ruled 5-4 that the amendment, part of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, violates candidates’ First Amendment right to spend their own money on campaign speech.
Although the law does not cap how much personal money a candidate may spend, Justice Alito said it unconstitutionally requires a rich candidate to “choose between the right to engage in unfettered political speech and subjection to discriminatory fundraising limitations.”
The amendment, aimed at leveling the playing field, triples the amount of individual contributions a candidate may receive $6,900 instead of $2,300 – when his wealthy counterpart spends more than $350,000 of his own money on campaigning.
Jack Davis, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in 2004 and 2006, filed suit after the Federal Election Commission accused him of violating the “Millionaire’s Amendment” by failing to report his personal expenditures during the 2004 campaign. He had already declared his 2006 candidacy and his intent to spend $1 million of his own money.
Davis claimed the amendment overcorrects a perceived imbalance by allowing his opponent to raise more money and use it to fund speech that diminishes the effectiveness of his own speech.
Alito said the disparate treatment of candidates creates a constitutional problem, because the limits are raised only for candidates who do not fund their own campaigns, not across the board.
“We have never upheld the constitutionality of a law that imposes different contribution limits for candidates who are competing against each other, and we agree with Davis that this scheme impermissibly burdens his First Amendment right to spend his own money for campaign speech.”
Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer dissented in part.