McCutcheon v. Fed. Election Comm’n,
Annotate this Case
572 U.S. ___ (2014)
NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
SHAUN McCUTCHEON, et al., APPELLANTS v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION
on appeal from the united states district court for the district of columbia
[April 2, 2014]
Chief Justice Roberts announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Alito join.
There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders. Citizens can exercise that right in a variety of ways: They can run for office themselves, vote, urge others to vote for a particular candidate, volunteer to work on a campaign, and contribute to a candidate’s campaign. This case is about the last of those options.
The right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute. Our cases have held that Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1 –27 (1976) (per curiam). At the same time, we have made clear that Congress may not regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others. See, e.g., Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, 564 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 24–25).
Many people might find those latter objectives attractive: They would be delighted to see fewer television commercials touting a candidate’s accomplishments or disparaging an opponent’s character. Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades—despite the profound offense such spectacles cause—it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition. See Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397 (1989) ; Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U. S. ___ (2011); National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43 (1977) (per curiam). Indeed, as we have emphasized, the First Amendment “has its fullest and most urgent application precisely to the conduct of campaigns for political office.” Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U. S. 265, 272 (1971) .
In a series of cases over the past 40 years, we have spelled out how to draw the constitutional line between the permissible goal of avoiding corruption in the political process and the impermissible desire simply to limit political speech. We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford. “Ingratiation and access . . . are not corruption.” Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310, 360 (2010) . They embody a central feature of democracy—that constituents support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to be responsive to those concerns.
Any regulation must instead target what we have called “quid pro quo” corruption or its appearance. See id., at 359. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money. See McCormick v. United States, 500 U. S. 257, 266 (1991) . “The hallmark of corruption is the financial quid pro quo: dollars for po- litical favors.” Federal Election Comm’n v. National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U. S. 480, 497 (1985) . Campaign finance restrictions that pursue other objectives, we have explained, impermissibly inject the Government “into the debate over who should govern.” Bennett, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 25). And those who govern should be the last people to help decide who should govern.
The statute at issue in this case imposes two types of limits on campaign contributions. The first, called base limits, restricts how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee. 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(1). The second, called aggregate limits, restricts how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees. §441a(a)(3).
This case does not involve any challenge to the base limits, which we have previously upheld as serving the permissible objective of combatting corruption. The Government contends that the aggregate limits also serve that objective, by preventing circumvention of the base limits. We conclude, however, that the aggregate limits do little, if anything, to address that concern, while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process. The aggregate limits are therefore invalid under the First Amendment.
For the 2013–2014 election cycle, the base limits in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), permit an individual to contribute up to $2,600 per election to a candidate ($5,200 total for the primary and general elections); $32,400 per year to a national party committee; [ 1 ] $10,000 per year to a state or local party committee; and $5,000 per year to a political action committee, or “PAC.” 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(1); 78 Fed. Reg. 8532 (2013). [ 2 ] A national committee, state or local party committee, or multicandidate PAC may in turn contribute up to $5,000 per election to a candidate. §441a(a)(2). [ 3 ]
The base limits apply with equal force to contributions that are “in any way earmarked or otherwise directed through an intermediary or conduit” to a candidate. §441a(a)(8). If, for example, a donor gives money to a party committee but directs the party committee to pass the contribution along to a particular candidate, then the transaction is treated as a contribution from the original donor to the specified candidate.
For the 2013–2014 election cycle, the aggregate limits in BCRA permit an individual to contribute a total of $48,600 to federal candidates and a total of $74,600 to other political committees. Of that $74,600, only $48,600 may be contributed to state or local party committees and PACs, as opposed to national party committees. §441a(a)(3); 78 Fed. Reg. 8532. All told, an individual may contribute up to $123,200 to candidate and noncandidate committees during each two-year election cycle.
The base limits thus restrict how much money a donor may contribute to any particular candidate or committee; the aggregate limits have the effect of restricting how many candidates or committees the donor may support, to the extent permitted by the base limits.
In the 2011–2012 election cycle, appellant Shaun McCutcheon contributed a total of $33,088 to 16 different federal candidates, in compliance with the base limits applicable to each. He alleges that he wished to contribute $1,776 to each of 12 additional candidates but was prevented from doing so by the aggregate limit on contributions to candidates. McCutcheon also contributed a total of $27,328 to several noncandidate political committees, in compliance with the base limits applicable to each. He alleges that he wished to contribute to various other political committees, including $25,000 to each of the three Republican national party committees, but was prevented from doing so by the aggregate limit on contributions to political committees. McCutcheon further alleges that he plans to make similar contributions in the future. In the 2013–2014 election cycle, he again wishes to contribute at least $60,000 to various candidates and $75,000 to non-candidate political committees. Brief for Appellant McCutcheon 11–12.
Appellant Republican National Committee is a national political party committee charged with the general management of the Republican Party. The RNC wishes to receive the contributions that McCutcheon and similarly situated individuals would like to make—contributions otherwise permissible under the base limits for national party committees but foreclosed by the aggregate limit on contributions to political committees.
In June 2012, McCutcheon and the RNC filed a complaint before a three-judge panel of the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia. See BCRA §403(a), 116Stat. 113–114. McCutcheon and the RNC asserted that the aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and to noncandidate political committees were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. They moved for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the challenged provisions, and the Government moved to dismiss the case.
The three-judge District Court denied appellants’ motion for a preliminary injunction and granted the Government’s motion to dismiss. Assuming that the base limits appropriately served the Government’s anticorruption interest, the District Court concluded that the aggregate limits survived First Amendment scrutiny because they prevented evasion of the base limits. 893 F. Supp. 2d 133, 140 (2012).
In particular, the District Court imagined a hypothetical scenario that might occur in a world without aggregate limits. A single donor might contribute the maximum amount under the base limits to nearly 50 separate committees, each of which might then transfer the money to the same single committee. Ibid. That committee, in turn, might use all the transferred money for coordinated expenditures on behalf of a particular candidate, allowing the single donor to circumvent the base limit on the amount he may contribute to that candidate. Ibid. The District Court acknowledged that “it may seem unlikely that so many separate entities would willingly serve as conduits” for the single donor’s interests, but it concluded that such a scenario “is not hard to imagine.” Ibid. It thus rejected a constitutional challenge to the aggregate limits, characterizing the base limits and the aggregate limits “as a coherent system rather than merely a collection of individual limits stacking prophylaxis upon prophylaxis.” Ibid.
McCutcheon and the RNC appealed directly to this Court, as authorized by law. 28 U. S. C. §1253. In such a case, “we ha[ve] no discretion to refuse adjudication of the case on its merits,” Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U. S. 332, 344 (1975) , and accordingly we noted probable jurisdiction. 568 U. S. ___ (2013).
Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1 , presented this Court with its first opportunity to evaluate the constitutionality of the original contribution and expenditure limits set forth in FECA. FECA imposed a $1,000 per election base limit on contributions from an individual to a federal candidate. It also imposed a $25,000 per year aggregate limit on all contributions from an individual to candidates or political committees. 18 U. S. C. §§608(b)(1), 608(b)(3) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). On the expenditures side, FECA imposed limits on both independent expenditures and candidates’ overall campaign expenditures. §§608(e)(1), 608(c).
Buckley recognized that “contribution and expenditure limitations operate in an area of the most fundamental First Amendment activities.” 424 U. S., at 14. But it distinguished expenditure limits from contribution limits based on the degree to which each encroaches upon protected First Amendment interests. Expenditure limits, the Court explained, “necessarily reduce[ ] the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.” Id., at 19. The Court thus subjected expenditure limits to “the exacting scrutiny applicable to lim- itations on core First Amendment rights of political expression.” Id., at 44–45. Under exacting scrutiny, the Government may regulate protected speech only if such regulation promotes a compelling interest and is the least restrictive means to further the articulated interest. See Sable Communications of Cal., Inc. v. FCC, 492 U. S. 115, 126 (1989) .
By contrast, the Court concluded that contribution limits impose a lesser restraint on political speech because they “permit[ ] the symbolic expression of support evidenced by a contribution but do[ ] not in any way infringe the contributor’s freedom to discuss candidates and issues.” Buckley, 424 U. S., at 21. As a result, the Court focused on the effect of the contribution limits on the freedom of political association and applied a lesser but still “rigorous standard of review.” Id., at 29. Under that standard, “[e]ven a ‘ “significant interference” with protected rights of political association’ may be sustained if the State demonstrates a sufficiently important interest and employs means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgement of associational freedoms.” Id., at 25 (quoting Cousins v. Wigoda, 419 U. S. 477, 488 (1975) ).
The primary purpose of FECA was to limit quid pro quo corruption and its appearance; that purpose satisfied the requirement of a “sufficiently important” governmental interest. 424 U. S., at 26–27. As for the “closely drawn” component, Buckley concluded that the $1,000 base limit “focuses precisely on the problem of large campaign contributions . . . while leaving persons free to engage in independent political expression, to associate actively through volunteering their services, and to assist to a limited but nonetheless substantial extent in supporting candidates and committees with financial resources.” Id., at 28. The Court therefore upheld the $1,000 base limit under the “closely drawn” test. Id., at 29.
The Court next separately considered an overbreadth challenge to the base limit. See id., at 29–30. The challengers argued that the base limit was fatally overbroad because most large donors do not seek improper influence over legislators’ actions. Although the Court accepted that premise, it nevertheless rejected the overbreadth challenge for two reasons: First, it was too “difficult to isolate suspect contributions” based on a contributor’s subjective intent. Id., at 30. Second, “Congress was justified in concluding that the interest in safeguarding against the appearance of impropriety requires that the opportunity for abuse inherent in the process of raising large monetary contributions be eliminated.” Ibid.
Finally, in one paragraph of its 139-page opinion, the Court turned to the $25,000 aggregate limit under FECA. As a preliminary matter, it noted that the constitution- ality of the aggregate limit “ha[d] not been separately addressed at length by the parties.” Id., at 38. Then, in three sentences, the Court disposed of any constitutional objections to the aggregate limit that the challengers might have had:
“The overall $25,000 ceiling does impose an ultimate restriction upon the number of candidates and committees with which an individual may associate himself by means of financial support. But this quite modest restraint upon protected political activity serves to prevent evasion of the $1,000 contribution limitation by a person who might otherwise contribute massive amounts of money to a particular candidate through the use of unearmarked contributions to political committees likely to contribute to that candidate, or huge contributions to the candidate’s political party. The limited, additional restriction on associational freedom imposed by the overall ceiling is thus no more than a corollary of the basic individual contribution limitation that we have found to be constitutionally valid.” Ibid.
The parties and amici curiae spend significant energy debating whether the line that Buckley drew between contributions and expenditures should remain the law. Notwithstanding the robust debate, we see no need in this case to revisit Buckley’s distinction between contributions and expenditures and the corollary distinction in the applicable standards of review. Buckley held that the Government’s interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance was “sufficiently important,” id., at 26–27; we have elsewhere stated that the same interest may properly be labeled “compelling,” see National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U. S., at 496–497, so that the interest would satisfy even strict scrutiny. Moreover, regardless whether we apply strict scrutiny or Buckley’s “closely drawn” test, we must assess the fit between the stated governmental objective and the means selected to achieve that objective. See, e.g., National Conservative Political Action Comm., supra, at 496–501; Randall v. Sorrell, 548 U. S. 230 –262 (2006) (opinion of Breyer, J.). Or to put it another way, if a law that restricts political speech does not “avoid unnecessary abridgement” of First Amendment rights, Buckley, 424 U. S., at 25, it cannot survive “rigorous” review.
Because we find a substantial mismatch between the Government’s stated objective and the means selected to achieve it, the aggregate limits fail even under the “closely drawn” test. We therefore need not parse the differences between the two standards in this case.
Buckley treated the constitutionality of the $25,000 aggregate limit as contingent upon that limit’s ability to prevent circumvention of the $1,000 base limit, describing the aggregate limit as “no more than a corollary” of the base limit. Id., at 38. The Court determined that circumvention could occur when an individual legally contributes “massive amounts of money to a particular candidate through the use of unearmarked contributions” to entities that are themselves likely to contribute to the candidate. Ibid. For that reason, the Court upheld the $25,000 aggregate limit.
Although Buckley provides some guidance, we think that its ultimate conclusion about the constitutionality of the aggregate limit in place under FECA does not control here. Buckley spent a total of three sentences analyzing that limit; in fact, the opinion pointed out that the constitutionality of the aggregate limit “ha[d] not been separately addressed at length by the parties.” Ibid. We are now asked to address appellants’ direct challenge to the aggregate limits in place under BCRA. BCRA is a different statutory regime, and the aggregate limits it imposes operate against a distinct legal backdrop.
Most notably, statutory safeguards against circumvention have been considerably strengthened since Buckley was decided, through both statutory additions and the introduction of a comprehensive regulatory scheme. With more targeted anticircumvention measures in place today, the indiscriminate aggregate limits under BCRA appear particularly heavy-handed.
The 1976 FECA Amendments, for example, added another layer of base contribution limits. The 1974 version of FECA had already capped contributions from political committees to candidates, but the 1976 version added limits on contributions to political committees. This change was enacted at least “in part to prevent circumvention of the very limitations on contributions that this Court upheld in Buckley.” California Medical Assn. v. Federal Election Comm’n, 453 U. S. 182 –198 (1981) (plurality opinion); see also id., at 203 (Blackmun, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Because a donor’s contributions to a political committee are now limited, a donor cannot flood the committee with “huge” amounts of money so that each contribution the committee makes is perceived as a contribution from him. Buckley, supra, at 38. Rather, the donor may contribute only $5,000 to the committee, which hardly raises the specter of abuse that concerned the Court in Buckley. Limits on contributions to political committees consequently create an additional hurdle for a donor who seeks both to channel a large amount of money to a particular candidate and to ensure that he gets the credit for doing so.
The 1976 Amendments also added an antiprolifera- tion rule prohibiting donors from creating or controlling multiple affiliated political committees. See 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(5); 11 CFR §100.5(g)(4). The Government ac- knowledges that this antiproliferation rule “forecloses what would otherwise be a particularly easy and effective means of circumventing the limits on contributions to any particular political committee.” Brief for Appellee 46. In effect, the rule eliminates a donor’s ability to create and use his own political committees to direct funds in excess of the individual base limits. It thus blocks a straightforward method of achieving the circumvention that was the underlying concern in Buckley.
The intricate regulatory scheme that the Federal Election Commission has enacted since Buckley further limits the opportunities for circumvention of the base limits via “unearmarked contributions to political committees likely to contribute” to a particular candidate. 424 U. S., at 38. Although the earmarking provision, 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(8), was in place when Buckley was decided, the FEC has since added regulations that define earmarking broadly. For example, the regulations construe earmarking to include any designation, “whether direct or indirect, express or implied, oral or written.” 11 CFR §110.6(b)(1). The regulations specify that an individual who has contributed to a particular candidate may not also contribute to a single-candidate committee for that candidate. §110.1(h)(1). Nor may an individual who has contributed to a candidate also contribute to a political committee that has supported or anticipates supporting the same candidate, if the individual knows that “a substantial portion [of his contribution] will be contributed to, or expended on behalf of,” that candidate. §110.1(h)(2).
In addition to accounting for statutory and regulatory changes in the campaign finance arena, appellants’ challenge raises distinct legal arguments that Buckley did not consider. For example, presumably because of its cursory treatment of the $25,000 aggregate limit, Buckley did not separately address an overbreadth challenge with respect to that provision. The Court rejected such a challenge to the base limits because of the difficulty of isolating suspect contributions. The propriety of large contributions to in- dividual candidates turned on the subjective intent of donors, and the Court concluded that there was no way to tell which donors sought improper influence over legislators’ actions. See 424 U. S., at 30. The aggregate limit, on the other hand, was upheld as an anticircumvention measure, without considering whether it was possible to discern which donations might be used to circumvent the base limits. See id., at 38. The Court never addressed overbreadth in the specific context of aggregate limits, where such an argument has far more force.
Given the foregoing, this case cannot be resolved merely by pointing to three sentences in Buckley that were written without the benefit of full briefing or argument on the issue. See Toucey v. New York Life Ins. Co., 314 U. S. 118 –140 (1941) (departing from “[l]oose language and a sporadic, ill-considered decision” when asked to resolve a question “with our eyes wide open and in the light of full consideration”); Hohn v. United States, 524 U. S. 236, 251 (1998) (departing from a prior decision where it “was rendered without full briefing or argument”). We are confronted with a different statute and different legal arguments, at a different point in the development of campaign finance regulation. Appellants’ sub- stantial First Amendment challenge to the system of aggregate limits currently in place thus merits our plenary consideration. [ 4 ]
The First Amendment “is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, . . . in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests.” Cohen v. California, 403 U. S. 15, 24 (1971) . As relevant here, the First Amendment safeguards an individual’s right to participate in the public debate through political expression and political association. See Buckley, 424 U. S., at 15. When an individual contributes money to a candidate, he exercises both of those rights: The contribution “serves as a general expression of support for the candidate and his views” and “serves to affiliate a person with a candidate.” Id., at 21–22.
Those First Amendment rights are important regardless whether the individual is, on the one hand, a “lone pamphleteer[ ] or street corner orator[ ] in the Tom Paine mold,” or is, on the other, someone who spends “substan-tial amounts of money in order to communicate [his] political ideas through sophisticated” means. National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U. S., at 493. Either way, he is participating in an electoral debate that we have recognized is “integral to the operation of the system of government established by our Constitution.” Buckley, supra, at 14.
Buckley acknowledged that aggregate limits at least diminish an individual’s right of political association. As the Court explained, the “overall $25,000 ceiling does impose an ultimate restriction upon the number of candidates and committees with which an individual may associate himself by means of financial support.” 424 U. S., at 38. But the Court characterized that restriction as a “quite modest restraint upon protected political activity.” Ibid. We cannot agree with that characterization. An aggregate limit on how many candidates and committees an individual may support through contributions is not a “modest restraint” at all. The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.
To put it in the simplest terms, the aggregate limits prohibit an individual from fully contributing to the primary and general election campaigns of ten or more candidates, even if all contributions fall within the base limits Congress views as adequate to protect against corruption. The individual may give up to $5,200 each to nine candidates, but the aggregate limits constitute an outright ban on further contributions to any other candidate (beyond the additional $1,800 that may be spent before reaching the $48,600 aggregate limit). At that point, the limits deny the individual all ability to exercise his expressive and associational rights by contributing to someone who will advocate for his policy preferences. A donor must limit the number of candidates he supports, and may have to choose which of several policy concerns he will advance—clear First Amendment harms that the dissent never acknowledges.
It is no answer to say that the individual can simply contribute less money to more people. To require one person to contribute at lower levels than others because he wants to support more candidates or causes is to impose a special burden on broader participation in the democratic process. And as we have recently admonished, the Government may not penalize an individual for “robustly exercis[ing]” his First Amendment rights. Davis v. Federal Election Comm’n, 554 U. S. 724, 739 (2008) .
The First Amendment burden is especially great for individuals who do not have ready access to alternative avenues for supporting their preferred politicians and policies. In the context of base contribution limits, Buckley observed that a supporter could vindicate his associational interests by personally volunteering his time and energy on behalf of a candidate. See 424 U. S., at 22, 28. Such personal volunteering is not a realistic alternative for those who wish to support a wide variety of candidates or causes. Other effective methods of supporting preferred candidates or causes without contributing money are reserved for a select few, such as entertainers capable of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single evening. Cf. Davis, supra, at 742. [ 5 ]
The dissent faults this focus on “the individual’s right to engage in political speech,” saying that it fails to take into account “the public’s interest” in “collective speech.” Post, at 6 (opinion of Breyer, J). This “collective” interest is said to promote “a government where laws reflect the very thoughts, views, ideas, and sentiments, the expression of which the First Amendment protects.” Post, at 7.
But there are compelling reasons not to define the boundaries of the First Amendment by reference to such a generalized conception of the public good. First, the dissent’s “collective speech” reflected in laws is of course the will of the majority, and plainly can include laws that restrict free speech. The whole point of the First Amendment is to afford individuals protection against such infringements. The First Amendment does not protect the government, even when the government purports to act through legislation reflecting “collective speech.” Cf. United States v. Alvarez, 567 U. S. ___ (2012); Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U. S. 705 (1977) ; West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624 (1943) .
Second, the degree to which speech is protected cannot turn on a legislative or judicial determination that particular speech is useful to the democratic process. The First Amendment does not contemplate such “ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits.” United States v. Stevens, 559 U. S. 460, 470 (2010) ; see also United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U. S. 803, 818 (2000) (“What the Constitution says is that” value judgments “are for the individual to make, not for the Government to decree, even with the mandate or approval of a majority”).
Third, our established First Amendment analysis already takes account of any “collective” interest that may justify restrictions on individual speech. Under that accepted analysis, such restrictions are measured against the asserted public interest (usually framed as an important or compelling governmental interest). As explained below, we do not doubt the compelling nature of the “collective” interest in preventing corruption in the electoral process. But we permit Congress to pursue that interest only so long as it does not unnecessarily infringe an individual’s right to freedom of speech; we do not truncate this tailoring test at the outset.
With the significant First Amendment costs for individual citizens in mind, we turn to the governmental interests asserted in this case. This Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. See Davis, supra, at 741; National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U. S., at 496–497. We have consistently rejected attempts to suppress campaign speech based on other legislative objectives. No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to “level the playing field,” or to “level electoral opportunities,” or to “equaliz[e] the financial resources of candidates.” Bennett, 564 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 22–23); Davis, supra, at 741–742; Buckley, supra, at 56. The First Amendment prohibits such legislative attempts to “fine-tun[e]” the electoral process, no matter how well intentioned. Bennett, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 21).
As we framed the relevant principle in Buckley, “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” 424 U. S., at 48–49. The dissent’s suggestion that Buckley supports the opposite proposition, see post, at 6, simply ignores what Buckley actually said on the matter. See also Citizens Against Rent Control/Coalition for Fair Housing v. Berkeley, 454 U. S. 290, 295 (1981) (“Buckley . . . made clear that contributors cannot be protected from the possibility that others will make larger contributions”).
Moreover, while preventing corruption or its appearance is a legitimate objective, Congress may target only a specific type of corruption—“quid pro quo” corruption. As Buckley explained, Congress may permissibly seek to rein in “large contributions [that] are given to secure a political quid pro quo from current and potential office holders.” 424 U. S., at 26. In addition to “actual quid pro quo arrangements,” Congress may permissibly limit “the ap- pearance of corruption stemming from public awareness of the opportunities for abuse inherent in a regime of large individual financial contributions” to particular candidates. Id., at 27; see also Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 359 (“When Buckley identified a sufficiently important governmental interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption, that interest was limited to quid pro quo corruption”).
Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner “influence over or access to” elected officials or political parties. Id., at 359; see McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U. S. 93, 297 (2003) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). And because the Government’s interest in preventing the appearance of corruption is equally confined to the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, the Government may not seek to limit the appearance of mere influence or access. See Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 360.
The dissent advocates a broader conception of corruption, and would apply the label to any individual contributions above limits deemed necessary to protect “collective speech.” Thus, under the dissent’s view, it is perfectly fine to contribute $5,200 to nine candidates but somehow corrupt to give the same amount to a tenth.
It is fair to say, as Justice Stevens has, “that we have not always spoken about corruption in a clear or consistent voice.” Id., at 447 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). The definition of corruption that we apply today, however, has firm roots in Buckley itself. The Court in that case upheld base contribution limits because they targeted “the danger of actual quid pro quo arrangements” and “the impact of the appearance of corruption stemming from public awareness” of such a system of unchecked direct contributions. 424 U. S., at 27. Buckley simultaneously rejected limits on spending that was less likely to “be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate.” Id., at 47. In any event, this case is not the first in which the debate over the proper breadth of the Government’s anticorruption interest has been engaged. Compare Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 356–361 (majority opinion), with id., at 447–460 (opinion of Stevens, J.).
The line between quid pro quo corruption and general influence may seem vague at times, but the distinction must be respected in order to safeguard basic First Amendment rights. In addition, “[i]n drawing that line, the First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it.” Federal Election Comm’n v. Wisconsin Right to Life, 551 U. S. 449, 457 (2007) (opinion of Roberts, C. J.).
The dissent laments that our opinion leaves only remnants of FECA and BCRA that are inadequate to combat corruption. See post, at 2. Such rhetoric ignores the fact that we leave the base limits undisturbed. [ 6 ] Those base limits remain the primary means of regulating campaign contributions—the obvious explanation for why the aggregate limits received a scant few sentences of attention in Buckley. [ 7 ]
“When the Government restricts speech, the Government bears the burden of proving the constitutionality of its actions.” United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U. S., at 816. Here, the Government seeks to carry that burden by arguing that the aggregate limits further the permissible objective of preventing quid pro quo corruption.
The difficulty is that once the aggregate limits kick in, they ban all contributions of any amount. But Congress’s selection of a $5,200 base limit indicates its belief that contributions of that amount or less do not create a cognizable risk of corruption. If there is no corruption concern in giving nine candidates up to $5,200 each, it is difficult to understand how a tenth candidate can be regarded as corruptible if given $1,801, and all others corruptible if given a dime. And if there is no risk that additional candidates will be corrupted by donations of up to $5,200, then the Government must defend the aggregate limits by demonstrating that they prevent circumvention of the base limits.
The problem is that they do not serve that function in any meaningful way. In light of the various statutes and regulations currently in effect, Buckley’s fear that an individual might “contribute massive amounts of money to a particular candidate through the use of unearmarked contributions” to entities likely to support the candi- date, 424 U. S., at 38, is far too speculative. And—importantly—we “have never accepted mere conjecture as adequate to carry a First Amendment burden.” Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U. S. 377, 392 (2000) .
As an initial matter, there is not the same risk of quid pro quo corruption or its appearance when money flows through independent actors to a candidate, as when a donor contributes to a candidate directly. When an individual contributes to a candidate, a party committee, or a PAC, the individual must by law cede control over the funds. See 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(8); 11 CFR §110.6. The Government admits that if the funds are subsequently re-routed to a particular candidate, such action occurs at the initial recipient’s discretion—not the donor’s. See Brief for Appellee 37. As a consequence, the chain of attribution grows longer, and any credit must be shared among the various actors along the way. For those reasons, the risk of quid pro quo corruption is generally applicable only to “the narrow category of money gifts that are directed, in some manner, to a candidate or officeholder.” McConnell, 540 U. S., at 310 (opinion of Kennedy, J.).
Buckley nonetheless focused on the possibility that “unearmarked contributions” could eventually find their way to a candidate’s coffers. 424 U. S., at 38. Even ac-cepting the validity of Buckley’s circumvention theory, it is hard to see how a candidate today could receive a “massive amount[ ] of money” that could be traced back to a particular contributor uninhibited by the aggregate limits. Ibid. The Government offers a series of scenarios in support of that possibility. But each is sufficiently implausible that the Government has not carried its burden of demonstrating that the aggregate limits further its anticircumvention interest.
The primary example of circumvention, in one form or another, envisions an individual donor who contributes the maximum amount under the base limits to a particular candidate, say, Representative Smith. Then the donor also channels “massive amounts of money” to Smith through a series of contributions to PACs that have stated their intention to support Smith. See, e.g., Brief for Appellee 35–37; Tr. of Oral Arg. 4, 6.
Various earmarking and antiproliferation rules disarm this example. Importantly, the donor may not contribute to the most obvious PACs: those that support only Smith. See 11 CFR §110.1(h)(1); see also §102.14(a). Nor may the donor contribute to the slightly less obvious PACs that he knows will route “a substantial portion” of his contribution to Smith. §110.1(h)(2).
The donor must instead turn to other PACs that are likely to give to Smith. When he does so, however, he discovers that his contribution will be significantly diluted by all the contributions from others to the same PACs. After all, the donor cannot give more than $5,000 to a PAC and so cannot dominate the PAC’s total receipts, as he could when Buckley was decided. 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(1)(C). He cannot retain control over his contribution, 11 CFR §110.1(h)(3), direct his money “in any way” to Smith, 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(8), or even imply that he would like his money to be recontributed to Smith, 11 CFR §110.6(b)(1). His salience as a Smith supporter has been diminished, and with it the potential for corruption.
It is not clear how many candidates a PAC must support before our dedicated donor can avoid being tagged with the impermissible knowledge that “a substantial portion” of his contribution will go to Smith. But imagine that the donor is one of ten equal donors to a PAC that gives the highest possible contribution to Smith. [ 8 ] The PAC may give no more than $2,600 per election to Smith. Of that sum, just $260 will be attributable to the donor intent on circumventing the base limits. Thus far he has hardly succeeded in funneling “massive amounts of money” to Smith. Buckley, supra, at 38.
But what if this donor does the same thing via, say, 100 different PACs? His $260 contribution will balloon to $26,000, ten times what he may contribute directly to Smith in any given election.
This 100-PAC scenario is highly implausible. In the first instance, it is not true that the individual donor will necessarily have access to a sufficient number of PACs to effectuate such a scheme. There are many PACs, but they are not limitless. For the 2012 election cycle, the FEC reported about 2,700 nonconnected PACs (excluding PACs that finance independent expenditures only). And not every PAC that supports Smith will work in this scheme: For our donor’s pro rata share of a PAC’s contribution to Smith to remain meaningful, the PAC must be funded by only a small handful of donors. The antiproliferation rules, which were not in effect when Buckley was decided, prohibit our donor from creating 100 pro-Smith PACs of his own, or collaborating with the nine other donors to do so. See 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(5) (“all contributions made by political committees established or financed or maintained or controlled by . . . any other person, or by any group of such persons, shall be considered to have been made by a single political committee”).
Moreover, if 100 PACs were to contribute to Smith and few other candidates, and if specific individuals like our ardent Smith supporter were to contribute to each, the FEC could weigh those “circumstantial factors” to determine whether to deem the PACs affiliated. 11 CFR §100.5(g)(4)(ii). The FEC’s analysis could take account of a “common or overlapping membership” and “similar patterns of contributions or contributors,” among other considerations. §§100.5(g)(4)(ii)(D), (J). The FEC has in the past initiated enforcement proceedings against contributors with such suspicious patterns of PAC donations. See, e.g., Conciliation Agreement, In re Riley, Matters Under Review 4568, 4633, 4634, 4736 (FEC, Dec. 19, 2001).
On a more basic level, it is hard to believe that a rational actor would engage in such machinations. In the example described, a dedicated donor spent $500,000—donating the full $5,000 to 100 different PACs—to add just $26,000 to Smith’s campaign coffers. That same donor, meanwhile, could have spent unlimited funds on independent expenditures on behalf of Smith. See Buckley, 424 U. S., at 44–51. Indeed, he could have spent his entire $500,000 advocating for Smith, without the risk that his selected PACs would choose not to give to Smith, or that he would have to share credit with other contributors to the PACs.
We have said in the context of independent expenditures that “ ‘[t]he absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent . . . undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate.’ ” Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 357 (quoting Buckley, supra, at 47). But probably not by 95 percent. And at least from the donor’s point of view, it strikes us as far more likely that he will want to see his full $500,000 spent on behalf of his favored candidate—even if it must be spent independently—rather than see it diluted to a small fraction so that it can be contributed directly by someone else. [ 9 ]
Another circumvention example is the one that apparently motivated the District Court. As the District Court crafted the example, a donor gives a $500,000 check to a joint fundraising committee composed of a candidate, a national party committee, and “most of the party’s state party committees” (actually, 47 of the 50). 893 F. Supp. 2d, at 140. The committees divide up the money so that each one receives the maximum contribution permissible under the base limits, but then each transfers its allocated portion to the same single committee. That committee uses the money for coordinated expenditures on behalf of a particular candidate. If that scenario “seem[s] unlikely,” the District Court thought so, too. Ibid. But because the District Court could “imagine” that chain of events, it held that the example substantiated the Government’s circumvention concerns. Ibid.
One problem, however, is that the District Court’s speculation relies on illegal earmarking. Lest there be any confusion, a joint fundraising committee is simply a mechanism for individual committees to raise funds collectively, not to circumvent base limits or earmarking rules. See 11 CFR §102.17(c)(5). Under no circumstances may a contribution to a joint fundraising committee result in an allocation that exceeds the contribution limits applicable to its constituent parts; the committee is in fact required to return any excess funds to the contributor. See §102.17(c)(6)(i).
The District Court assumed compliance with the specific allocation rules governing joint fundraising committees, but it expressly based its example on the premise that the donor would telegraph his desire to support one candidate and that “many separate entities would willingly serve as conduits for a single contributor’s interests.” 893 F. Supp. 2d, at 140. Regardless whether so many distinct entities would cooperate as a practical matter, the earmarking provision prohibits an individual from directing funds “through an intermediary or conduit” to a particular candidate. 2 U. S. C. §441a(8). Even the “implicit[ ]” agreement imagined by the District Court, 893 F. Supp. 2d, at 140, would trigger the earmarking provision. See 11 CFR §110.6(b)(1). So this circumvention scenario could not succeed without assuming that nearly 50 separate party committees would engage in a transparent violation of the earmarking rules (and that they would not be caught if they did).
Moreover, the District Court failed to acknowledge that its $500,000 example cannot apply to most candidates. It crafted the example around a presidential candidate, for whom donations in the thousands of dollars may not seem remarkable—especially in comparison to the nearly $1.4 billion spent by the 2012 presidential candidates. The same example cannot, however, be extrapolated to most House and Senate candidates. Like contributions, coordinated expenditures are limited by statute, with different limits based on the State and the office. See 2 U. S. C. §441a(d)(3). The 2013 coordinated expenditure limit for most House races is $46,600, well below the $500,000 in coordinated expenditures envisioned by the District Court. The limit for Senate races varies significantly based on state population. See 78 Fed. Reg. 8531 (2013). A scheme of the magnitude imagined by the District Court would be possible even in theory for no House candidates and the Senate candidates from just the 12 most populous States. Ibid.
Further, to the extent that the law does not foreclose the scenario described by the District Court, experience and common sense do. The Government provides no reason to believe that many state parties would willingly participate in a scheme to funnel money to another State’s candidates. A review of FEC data of Republican and Democratic state party committees for the 2012 election cycle reveals just 12 total instances in which a state party committee contributed to a House or Senate candidate in another State. No surprise there. The Iowa Democratic Party, for example, has little reason to transfer money to the California Democratic Party, especially when the Iowa Democratic Party would be barred for the remainder of the election cycle from receiving another contribution for its own activities from the particular donor.
These scenarios, along with others that have been suggested, are either illegal under current campaign finance laws or divorced from reality. The three examples posed by the dissent are no exception. The dissent does not explain how the large sums it postulates can be legally rerouted to a particular candidate, why most state committees would participate in a plan to redirect their donations to a candidate in another State, or how a donor or group of donors can avoid regulations prohibiting con- tributions to a committee “with the knowledge that a substantial portion” of the contribution will support a candidate to whom the donor has already contributed, 11 CFR §110.1(h)(2).
The dissent argues that such knowledge may be difficult to prove, pointing to eight FEC cases that did not proceed because of insufficient evidence of a donor’s incriminating knowledge. See post, at 24–25. It might be that such guilty knowledge could not be shown because the donors were not guilty—a possibility that the dissent does not entertain. In any event, the donors described in those eight cases were typically alleged to have exceeded the base limits by $5,000 or less. The FEC’s failure to find the requisite knowledge in those cases hardly means that the agency will be equally powerless to prevent a scheme in which a donor routes millions of dollars in excess of the base limits to a particular candidate, as in the dissent’s “Example Two.” And if an FEC official cannot establish knowledge of circumvention (or establish affiliation) when the same ten donors contribute $10,000 each to 200 newly created PACs, and each PAC writes a $10,000 check to the same ten candidates—the dissent’s “Example Three”—then that official has not a heart but a head of stone. See post, at 19–20, 25.
The dissent concludes by citing three briefs for the proposition that, even with the aggregate limits in place, individuals “have transferred large sums of money to specific candidates” in excess of the base limits. Post, at 26. But the cited sources do not provide any real-world examples of circumvention of the base limits along the lines of the various hypotheticals. The dearth of FEC prosecutions, according to the dissent, proves only that people are getting away with it. And the violations that surely must be out there elude detection “because in the real world, the methods of achieving circumvention are more subtle and more complex” than the hypothetical examples. Ibid. This sort of speculation, however, cannot justify the substantial intrusion on First Amendment rights at issue in this case.
Buckley upheld aggregate limits only on the ground that they prevented channeling money to candidates beyond the base limits. The absence of such a prospect today belies the Government’s asserted objective of preventing corruption or its appearance. The improbability of circumvention indicates that the aggregate limits instead further the impermissible objective of simply limiting the amount of money in political campaigns.
Quite apart from the foregoing, the aggregate limits violate the First Amendment because they are not “closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms.” Buckley, 424 U. S., at 25. In the First Amendment context, fit matters. Even when the Court is not applying strict scrutiny, we still require “a fit that is not necessarily perfect, but reasonable; that represents not necessarily the single best disposition but one whose scope is ‘in proportion to the interest served,’ . . . that employs not necessarily the least restrictive means but . . . a means narrowly tailored to achieve the desired objective.” Board of Trustees of State Univ. of N. Y. v. Fox, 492 U. S. 469, 480 (1989) (quoting In re R. M. J., 455 U. S. 191, 203 (1982) ). Here, because the statute is poorly tailored to the Government’s interest in preventing circumvention of the base limits, it impermissibly restricts participation in the political process.
The Government argues that the aggregate limits are justified because they prevent an individual from giving to too many initial recipients who might subsequently recontribute a donation. After all, only recontributed funds can conceivably give rise to circumvention of the base limits. Yet all indications are that many types of recipients have scant interest in regifting donations they receive.
Some figures might be useful to put the risk of circumvention in perspective. We recognize that no data can be marshaled to capture perfectly the counterfactual world in which aggregate limits do not exist. But, as we have noted elsewhere, we can nonetheless ask “whether experience under the present law confirms a serious threat of abuse.” Federal Election Comm’n v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm., 533 U. S. 431, 457 (2001) . It does not. Experience suggests that the vast majority of contri- butions made in excess of the aggregate limits are likely to be retained and spent by their recipients rather than rerouted to candidates.
In the 2012 election cycle, federal candidates, political parties, and PACs spent a total of $7 billion, according to the FEC. In particular, each national political party’s spending ran in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), however, spent less than $1 million each on direct candidate contributions and less than $10 million each on coordinated expenditures. Brief for NRSC et al. as Amici Curiae 23, 25 (NRSC Brief). Including both coordinated expenditures and direct candidate contributions, the NRSC and DSCC spent just 7% of their total funds on contributions to candidates and the NRCC and DCCC spent just 3%.
Likewise, as explained previously, state parties rarely contribute to candidates in other States. In the 2012 election cycle, the Republican and Democratic state party committees in all 50 States (and the District of Columbia) contributed a paltry $17,750 to House and Senate candidates in other States. The state party committees spent over half a billion dollars over the same time period, of which the $17,750 in contributions to other States’ candidates constituted just 0.003%.
As with national and state party committees, candidates contribute only a small fraction of their campaign funds to other candidates. Authorized candidate committees may support other candidates up to a $2,000 base limit. 2 U. S. C. §432(e)(3)(B). In the 2012 election, House candidates spent a total of $1.1 billion. Candidate-to-candidate contributions among House candidates totaled $3.65 million, making up just 0.3% of candidates’ overall spending. NRSC Brief 29. The most that any one individual candidate received from all other candidates was around $100,000. Brief for Appellee 39. The fact is that candidates who receive campaign contributions spend most of the money on themselves, rather than passing along donations to other candidates. In this arena at least, charity begins at home. [ 10 ]
Based on what we can discern from experience, the indiscriminate ban on all contributions above the aggregate limits is disproportionate to the Government’s interest in preventing circumvention. The Government has not given us any reason to believe that parties or candidates would dramatically shift their priorities if the aggregate limits were lifted. Absent such a showing, we cannot conclude that the sweeping aggregate limits are appropriately tailored to guard against any contributions that might implicate the Government’s anticircumvention interest.
A final point: It is worth keeping in mind that the base limits themselves are a prophylactic measure. As we have explained, “restrictions on direct contributions are preventative, because few if any contributions to candidates will involve quid pro quo arrangements.” Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 357. The aggregate limits are then layered on top, ostensibly to prevent circumvention of the base limits. This “prophylaxis-upon-prophylaxis approach” requires that we be particularly diligent in scrutinizing the law’s fit. Wisconsin Right to Life, 551 U. S., at 479 (opinion of Roberts, C. J.); see McConnell, 540 U. S., at 268–269 (opinion of Thomas, J.).
Importantly, there are multiple alternatives available to Congress that would serve the Government’s anticircumvention interest, while avoiding “unnecessary abridgment” of First Amendment rights. Buckley, 424 U. S., at 25.
The most obvious might involve targeted restrictions on transfers among candidates and political committees. There are currently no such limits on transfers among party committees and from candidates to party committees. See 2 U. S. C. §441a(a)(4); 11 CFR §113.2(c). Perhaps for that reason, a central concern of the District Court, the Government, multiple amici curiae, and the dissent has been the ability of party committees to transfer money freely. If Congress agrees that this is problematic, it might tighten its permissive transfer rules. Doing so would impose a lesser burden on First Amendment rights, as compared to aggregate limits that flatly ban contributions beyond certain levels. And while the Government has not conceded that transfer restrictions would be a perfect substitute for the aggregate limits, it has recognized that they would mitigate the risk of circumvention. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 29.
One possible option for restricting transfers would be to require contributions above the current aggregate limits to be deposited into segregated, nontransferable accounts and spent only by their recipients. Such a solution would address the same circumvention possibilities as the current aggregate limits, while not completely barring contributions beyond the aggregate levels. In addition (or as an alternative), if Congress believes that circumvention is especially likely to occur through creation of a joint fundraising committee, it could require that funds received through those committees be spent by their recipients (or perhaps it could simply limit the size of joint fundraising committees). Such alternatives to the aggregate limits properly refocus the inquiry on the delinquent actor: the recipient of a contribution within the base limits, who then routes the money in a manner that undermines those limits. See Citizens United, supra, at 360–361; cf. Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U. S. 514 –530 (2001).
Indeed, Congress has adopted transfer restrictions, and the Court has upheld them, in the context of state party spending. See 2 U. S. C. §441i(b). So-called “Levin funds” are donations permissible under state law that may be spent on certain federal election activity—namely, voter registration and identification, get-out-the-vote efforts, or generic campaign activities. Levin funds are raised directly by the state or local party committee that ultimately spends them. §441i(b)(2)(B)(iv). That means that other party committees may not transfer Levin funds, solicit Levin funds on behalf of the particular state or local committee, or engage in joint fundraising of Levin funds. See McConnell, 540 U. S., at 171–173. McConnell upheld those transfer restrictions as “justifiable anticircumvention measures,” though it acknowledged that they posed some associational burdens. Id., at 171. Here, a narrow transfer restriction on contributions that could otherwise be recontributed in excess of the base limits could rely on a similar justification.
Other alternatives might focus on earmarking. Many of the scenarios that the Government and the dissent hy-pothesize involve at least implicit agreements to circumvent the base limits—agreements that are already prohibited by the earmarking rules. See 11 CFR §110.6. The FEC might strengthen those rules further by, for exam- ple, defining how many candidates a PAC must support in order to ensure that “a substantial portion” of a do- nor’s contribution is not rerouted to a certain candidate. §110.1(h)(2). Congress might also consider a modified version of the aggregate limits, such as one that prohibits donors who have contributed the current maximum sums from further contributing to political committees that have indicated they will support candidates to whom the donor has already contributed. To be sure, the existing earmarking provision does not define “the outer limit of accept- able tailoring.” Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm., 533 U. S., at 462. But tighter rules could have a significant effect, especially when adopted in concert with other measures.
We do not mean to opine on the validity of any particular proposal. The point is that there are numerous al- ternative approaches available to Congress to prevent circumvention of the base limits.
Finally, disclosure of contributions minimizes the potential for abuse of the campaign finance system. Disclosure requirements are in part “justified based on a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending.” Citizens United, 558 U. S., at 367 (quoting Buckley, supra, at 66). They may also “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity.” Id., at 67. Disclosure requirements burden speech, but—unlike the aggregate limits—they do not impose a ceiling on speech. Citizens United, supra, at 366; but see McConnell, supra, at 275–277 (opinion of Thomas, J.). For that reason, disclosure often represents a less restrictive alternative to flat bans on certain types or quantities of speech. See, e.g., Federal Election Comm’n v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U. S. 238, 262 (1986) .
With modern technology, disclosure now offers a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information. In 1976, the Court observed that Congress could regard disclosure as “only a partial measure.” Buckley, 424 U. S., at 28. That perception was understandable in a world in which information about campaign contributions was filed at FEC offices and was therefore virtually inaccessible to the average member of the public. See Brief for Cause of Action Institute as Amicus Curiae 15–16. Today, given the Internet, disclosure offers much more robust protections against corruption. See Citizens United, supra, at 370–371. Reports and databases are availa- ble on the FEC’s Web site almost immediately after they are filed, supplemented by private entities such as OpenSecrets.org and FollowTheMoney.org. Because massive quantities of information can be accessed at the click of a mouse, disclosure is effective to a degree not possible at the time Buckley, or even McConnell, was decided.
The existing aggregate limits may in fact encourage the movement of money away from entities subject to dis-closure. Because individuals’ direct contributions are limited, would-be donors may turn to other avenues for political speech. See Citizens United, supra, at 364. Individuals can, for example, contribute unlimited amounts to 501(c) organizations, which are not required to publicly disclose their donors. See 26 U. S. C. §6104(d)(3). Such organizations spent some $300 million on independent expenditures in the 2012 election cycle.
At oral argument, the Government shifted its focus from Buckley’s anticircumvention rationale to an argument that the aggregate limits deter corruption regardless of their ability to prevent circumvention of the base limits. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 29–30, 50–52. The Government argued that there is an opportunity for corruption whenever a large check is given to a legislator, even if the check consists of contributions within the base limits to be appropriately divided among numerous candidates and committees. The aggregate limits, the argument goes, ensure that the check amount does not become too large. That new rationale for the aggregate limits—embraced by the dissent, see post, at 15–17—does not wash. It dangerously broadens the circumscribed definition of quid pro quo corruption articu- lated in our prior cases, and targets as corruption the general, broad-based support of a political party.
In analyzing the base limits, Buckley made clear that the risk of corruption arises when an individual makes large contributions to the candidate or officeholder himself. See 424 U. S., at 26–27. Buckley’s analysis of the aggregate limit under FECA was similarly confined. The Court noted that the aggregate limit guarded against an individual’s funneling—through circumvention—“massive amounts of money to a particular candidate.” Id., at 38 (emphasis added). We have reiterated that understanding several times. See, e.g., National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U. S., at 497 (quid pro quo corruption occurs when “[e]lected officials are influenced to act contrary to their obligations of office by the prospect of financial gain to themselves or infusions of money into their campaigns” (emphasis added)); Citizens Against Rent Control/Coalition for Fair Housing v. Berkeley, 454 U. S. 290, 297 (1981) (Buckley’s holding that contribution limits are permissible “relates to the perception of undue influence of large contributors to a candidate”); McConnell, 540 U. S., at 296 (opinion of Kennedy, J.) (quid pro quo corruption in Buckley involved “contributions that flowed to a particular candidate’s benefit” (emphasis added)).
Of course a candidate would be pleased with a donor who contributed not only to the candidate himself, but also to other candidates from the same party, to party committees, and to PACs supporting the party. But there is a clear, administrable line between money beyond the base limits funneled in an identifiable way to a candidate—for which the candidate feels obligated—and money within the base limits given widely to a candidate’s party—for which the candidate, like all other members of the party, feels grateful.
When donors furnish widely distributed support within all applicable base limits, all members of the party or supporters of the cause may benefit, and the leaders of the party or cause may feel particular gratitude. That gratitude stems from the basic nature of the party system, in which party members join together to further common political beliefs, and citizens can choose to support a party because they share some, most, or all of those beliefs. See Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U. S. 208 –216 (1986). To recast such shared interest, standing alone, as an opportunity for quid pro quo corruption would dramatically expand government regulation of the political process. Cf. California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U. S. 567 –573 (2000) (recognizing the Government’s “role to play in structuring and monitoring the election process,” but rejecting “the proposition that party affairs are public affairs, free of First Amendment protections”).
The Government suggests that it is the solicitation of large contributions that poses the danger of corruption, see Tr. of Oral Arg. 29–30, 38–39, 50–51; see also post, at 15–16, 20, but the aggregate limits are not limited to any direct solicitation by an officeholder or candidate. Cf. McConnell, supra, at 298–299, 308 (opinion of Kennedy, J.) (rejecting a ban on “soft money” contributions to national parties, but approving a ban on the solicitation of such contributions as “a direct and necessary regulation of federal candidates’ and officeholders’ receipt of quids”). We have no occasion to consider a law that would specifically ban candidates from soliciting donations—within the base limits—that would go to many other candidates, and would add up to a large sum. For our purposes here, it is enough that the aggregate limits at issue are not directed specifically to candidate behavior.
* * *
For the past 40 years, our campaign finance jurisprudence has focused on the need to preserve authority for the Government to combat corruption, without at the same time compromising the political responsiveness at the heart of the democratic process, or allowing the Government to favor some participants in that process over others. As Edmund Burke explained in his famous speech to the electors of Bristol, a representative owes constituents the exercise of his “mature judgment,” but judgment informed by “the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents.” The Speeches of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke 129–130 (J. Burke ed. 1867). Constituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and responsive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.
The Government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combatting corruption and its appearance. We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption—quid pro quo corruption—in order to ensure that the Government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them. For the reasons set forth, we conclude that the aggregate limits on contributions do not further the only governmental interest this Court accepted as legitimate in Buckley. They instead intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise “the most fundamental First Amendment activities.” Buckley, 424 U. S., at 14.
The judgment of the District Court is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
It is so ordered.