Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC,
528 U.S. 377 (2000)

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No. 98-963. Argued October 5, 1999-Decided January 24, 2000

Respondents Shrink Missouri Government PAC, a political action committee, and Zev David Fredman, a candidate for the 1998 Republican nomination for Missouri state auditor, filed suit, alleging that a Missouri statute imposing limits ranging from $275 to $1,075 on contributions to candidates for state office violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Shrink Missouri gave Fredman $1,025 in 1997, and $50 in 1998, and represented that, without the statutory limitation, it would contribute more. Fredman alleged he could campaign effectively only with more generous contributions than the statute allowed. On crossmotions for summary judgment, the District Court sustained the statute. Applying Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1 (per curiam), the court found adequate support for the law in the proposition that large contributions raise suspicions of influence peddling tending to undermine citizens' confidence in government integrity. The court rejected respondents' contention that inflation since Buckley's approval of a federal $1,000 restriction meant that the state limit of $1,075 for a statewide office could not be constitutional today. In reversing, the Eighth Circuit found that Buckley had articulated and applied a strict scrutiny standard of review, and held that Missouri had to demonstrate that it had a compelling interest and that the contribution limits at issue were narrowly drawn to serve that interest. Treating Missouri's claim of a compelling interest in avoiding the corruption or the perception of corruption caused by candidates' acceptance of large campaign contributions as insufficient by itself to satisfy strict scrutiny, the court required demonstrable evidence that genuine problems resulted from contributions in amounts greater than the statutory limits. It ruled that the State's evidence was inadequate for this purpose.

Held: Buckley is authority for comparable state limits on contributions to state political candidates, and those limits need not be pegged to the precise dollar amounts approved in Buckley. Pp. 385-398.

(a) The Buckley Court held, inter alia, that a Federal Election Campaign Act provision placing a $1,000 annual ceiling on independent expenditures linked to specific candidates for federal office infringed speech and association guarantees of the First Amendment and the


Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth, but upheld other provisions limiting contributions by individuals to any single candidate to $1,000 per election. P. 385.

(b) In addressing the speech claim, the Buckley Court explicitly rejected both intermediate scrutiny for communicative action, see United States v. O'Brien, 391 U. S. 367, and the similar standard applicable to merely time, place, and manner restrictions, see, e. g., Adderley v. Florida, 385 U. S. 39, and instead referred generally to "the exacting scrutiny required by the First Amendment," 424 U. S., at 16. The Court then drew a line between expenditures and contributions, treating expenditure restrictions as direct restraints on speech, id., at 19, but saying, in effect, that limiting contributions left communication significantly unimpaired, id., at 20-21. The Court flagged a similar difference between the impacts of expenditure and contribution limits on association rights, id., at 22; see also id., at 28, and later made that distinction explicit, e. g., Federal Election Comm'n v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U. S. 238, 259-260. Thus, under Buckley's standard of scrutiny, a contribution limit involving significant interference with associational rights could survive if the Government demonstrated that regulating contributions was a means "closely drawn" to match a "sufficiently important interest," 424 U. S., at 25, though the dollar amount of the limit need not be "fine tun[ed]," id., at 30. While Buckley did not attempt to parse distinctions between the speech and associational standards of scrutiny for contribution limits, the Court made clear that such restrictions bore more heavily on associational rights than on speech rights, and thus proceeded on the understanding that a contribution limitation surviving a claim of associational abridgment would survive a speech challenge as well. The Court found the prevention of corruption and the appearance of corruption to be a constitutionally sufficient justification for the contribution limits at issue. Id., at 25-28. Pp. 386-389.

(c) In defending its statute, Missouri espouses those same interests of preventing corruption and the appearance of it. Even without Buckley, there would be no serious question about the legitimacy of these interests, which underlie bribery and antigratuity statutes. Rather, respondents take the State to task for failing to justify the invocation of those interests with empirical evidence of actually corrupt practices or of a perception among Missouri voters that unrestricted contributions must have been exerting a covertly corrosive influence. The state statute is not void, however, for want of evidence. The quantum of empirical evidence needed to satisfy heightened judicial scrutiny of legislative judgments will vary up or down with the novelty and plausibility of the justification raised. Buckley demonstrates that the dangers of large,

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