Federal Election Comm'n v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm.,
533 U.S. 431 (2001)

Annotate this Case
  • Syllabus  | 
  • Case





No.00-191. Argued February 28, 200l-Decided June 25, 2001

In Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 12-59, this Court held that the limitations on political campaign contributions in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 were generally constitutional, but that the Act's limitations on election expenditures infringed political expression in violation of the First Amendment. Later cases have respected this line between contributing and spending. The distinction's simplicity is qualified, however, by the Act's provision for a functional, not formal, definition of "contribution," which includes "expenditures made by any person in cooperation, consultation, or concert, with ... a candidate," 2 U. S. C. § 441a(a)(7)(B)(i). Thus, expenditures coordinated with a candidate are contributions under the Act. The Federal Election Commission (FE C) originally took the position that any expenditure by a political party in connection with a federal election was presumed to be coordinated with the party's candidate. See, e. g., Federal Election Comm'n v. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Comm., 454 U. S. 27, 2829, n. 1. The FEC thus assumed that all expenditure limits imposed on political parties were, in essence, contribution limits and therefore constitutional. Such limits include § 441a(d)(3), which imposes spending limits on national and state political parties with respect to United States Senate elections. In Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm. v. Federal Election Comm'n, 518 U. S. 604 (Colorado I), the spending limits in § 441a(d)(3) (referred to as the Party Expenditure Provision), were held unconstitutional as applied to the independent expenditures of the Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (Party) in connection with a senatorial campaign. The principal opinion ruled the payments "independent," rather than coordinated, expenditures under this Court's cases because the Party spent the money before selecting its own senatorial candidate and without any arrangement with potential nominees. Id., at 613-614. The principal opinion remanded the Party's broader claim that all limits on a party's congressional campaign expenditures are facially unconstitutional and thus un-



enforceable even as to spending coordinated with a candidate. Id., at 623-626. On remand, the District Court held for the Party on that claim, and a divided Tenth Circuit panel affirmed.

Held: Because a party's coordinated expenditures, unlike expenditures truly independent, may be restricted to minimize circumvention of the Act's contribution limits, the Party's facial challenge is rejected. Pp.440-465.

(a) Political expenditure limits deserve closer scrutiny than contribution restrictions, e. g., Buckley, 424 U. S., at 14-23, because expenditure restraints generally curb more expressive and associational activity than contribution limits, e. g., id., at 19-23, and because unlimited contributions are more clearly linked to political corruption than other kinds of unlimited political spending, at least where the spending is not coordinated with a candidate or his campaign, e. g., id., at 47. Although the First Amendment line is easy to draw when it falls between independent expenditures by individuals or political action committees (PACs) without any candidate's approval and contributions in the form of cash gifts to candidates, see, e. g., id., at 19-23, facts speak less clearly once the independence of the spending cannot be taken for granted. Congress's functional treatment of coordinated expenditures by individuals and nonparty groups like contributions prevents attempts to circumvent the Act through coordinated expenditures amounting to disguised contributions. Id., at 47. Buckley, in fact, enhanced the significance of this functional treatment by striking down independent expenditure limits on First Amendment grounds while upholding limitations on contributions (by individuals and nonparty groups), as defined to include coordinated expenditures. Id., at 23-59. Colorado I addressed the FEC's effort to stretch the functional treatment one step further. Because Buckley had treated some coordinated expenditures like contributions and upheld their limitation, the FEC's argument went, the Party Expenditure Provision should stand as applied to all party election spending, see, e. g., 518 U. S., at 619-623. Holding otherwise, the principal opinion found that, because "independent" party expenditures are no more likely to serve corruption than independent expenditures by anyone else, there was no justification for subjecting party election spending across the board to the kinds of limits previously invalidated when applied to individuals and nonparty groups. See id., at 616. But that still left the question whether the First Amendment allows coordinated election expenditures by parties to be treated functionally as contributions, the way coordinated expenditures by other entities are treated. The issue in this case is, accordingly, whether a party is in a different position from other political speakers, giving it a claim to de-

Full Text of Opinion

Disclaimer: Official Supreme Court case law is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia case law is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.