Skip Navigation
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.