Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Commission (Colorado Republican I)
Campaign Finance Reform
The Colorado Republican Party challenged the constitutionality of the 1974 restriction imposed by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) that limited the amount a national or state party can spend on Congressional races as a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. The challenge was brought in response to an action the Federal Election Commission (FEC) brought against the state party for violating the limit with radio advertisements attacking the Democratic Party’s likely candidate.
The Brennan Center, representing political scientists, filed the first brief in the United States Supreme Court ever to call upon the Court to overrule Buckley v. Valeo by abolishing the distinction between contributions and expenditures. Upon a reexamination of this distinction, the brief argued, the Court should recognize a strong government interest in safeguarding against both the reality and the appearance of corruption, and additionally supporting an elected official’s ability to exercise independent moral choices. If the Court recognized such government interests, Congress could maintain the capability to regulate every phase of the campaign finance process when demonstrably necessary to achieve these goals without facing an insurmountable First Amendment hurdle. In a 1996 plurality decision written by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the application of challenged provisions to expenditures that the political party has made independently, without coordination with any candidate. Three justices directed their attention to the Brennan Center’s argument, though none of the parties had briefed it. See Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Commission (518 U.S. 604, 116 S.Ct. 2309 1996).