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Court Case Tracker

Davis v. Federal Election Commission

This case challenges a provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) known as the Millionaire’s Amendment that raises the limits on contributions to congressional candidates if their opponent spends above a threshold amount of $350,000 of personal funds on his or her campaign.

Published: August 13, 2008

This case challenges a provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) known as the Millionaires' Amendment that raises the limits on contributions to congressional candidates if their opponent spends above a threshold amount of $350,000 of personal funds on his or her campaign.  The provision relaxes the limits on political party spending in coordination with a candidate whose opponent is self-financed.  Congress enacted the Millionaires’ Amendment to address the concern that candidates of modest means cannot effectively compete in increasingly expensive federal elections. 

Jack Davis, a millionaire Democratic candidate who ran two self-financed campaigns for the House of Representatives in upstate New York, challenged the so-called Millionaires’ Amendment.  Davis claims that the Millionaires’ Amendment violates the First Amendment because it burdens his speech and deters self-financing candidates from running for Congress by conferring benefits on their opponents.  

Davis vs. FEC was first filed in the fall of 2006 and was being appealed to the Supreme Court after a three-panel federal judge upheld the Millionaires’ Amendment.

On March 26th, 2008, the Brennan Center along with Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, Public Citizen Litigation Group and others submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the FEC.  The Center’s amicus brief may be found here.

The Brennan Center’s amicus brief contends that the Millionaires’ Amendment places no restraints on candidates who choose to self-finance their political campaigns.  Instead of setting a ceiling on the expenditures a wealthy candidate may make, the provision simply relaxes certain contribution expenditure limits that would otherwise apply to his or her opponent.  In its briefing, the Brennan Center called on the high court to limit its ruling to the constitutionality of the Millionaires’ Amendment and avoid any broader conclusions.  

On June 26th, 2008, the Supreme Court made a decision, striking down the federal Millionaire's Amendment by a vote of five to four in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. The Court's analysis relied on two main focuses: that there was an asymmetrical burden on speech because the Millionaire's Amendment caused candidates in the same election to be bound by two different sets of rules, and that there was no compelling state interest, as the relaxed limits on spending would not prevent corruption, or the appearance of corruption. The court did cite Buckley v. Valeo in its support for public finance systems. The Brennan Center has produced a one-page summary of the distinctions between the Court's decision in Davis and the constitutionality of public funding systems.