Supreme Court to Review Campaign Contributions Tuesday

October 4, 1999

For Immediate Release

October 5, 1999

Contact Information:

Ken Weine, 212 998-6736

Supreme Court to Review Campaign Contributions Tuesday

Brennan Center Argues Court Should Respect Missouri State Legislature’s $1,075 Limit, and Affirm Buckley v. Valeo Reasoning That Contribution Caps Prevent Corruption

In a case that may greatly impact federal and state campaign finance laws, on Tuesday, October 5 the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, a challenge to the constitutionality of Missouri’s $1,075 campaign contribution limit. This will mark the first time since the 1976 landmark decision Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld $1,000 contribution caps, that the Court will examine whether limiting individual contributions at approximately $1,000 is allowable under the First Amendment.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law - which represents Missouri state Representative Joan Bray, a defender of this contribution limit - argued in its briefs that the Court should respect the Missouri state legislature’s cap. According to Brennan Center Senior Attorney Deborah Goldberg, “Candidates in Missouri are fully able to raise sufficient funds to run competitive campaigns under the $1,075 limit, so the state is fully justified in using a contribution limit to deter the reality and appearance of corruption.”

Nixon arrived at the Court after a political organization and a candidate unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of Missouri’s contribution limit in federal district court, and the Eighth Circuit reversed this decision. Campaign finance reformers considered the Eighth Circuit ruling to be a serious setback, noting that dozens of states and cities and the federal government limit contributions at or near $1,000.

Buckley has been the law of the land for 23 years. “The Supreme Court should not tolerate the Eighth Circuit’s defiance of Buckley,” Goldberg stated. “The Court should instead reaffirm the constitutionality of the $1,000 limit, and in a manner that states clearly why and how states may use contribution limits to protect our democracy from the reality and appearance of corruption.”

Recent decisions have revealed great conflict among federal and state courts about the appropriate standard of review for evaluating contribution limits, how a state’s interests are established in the defense of limits, and the circumstances in which a court may examine closely the dollar amount of a limit. “At present there is great doctrinal confusion,” Goldberg stated. “Legislators and citizens who are drafting laws and initiatives must know how courts will evaluate contribution limits.”

Contact the Brennan Center at 212 998 6736 for further comment.

Prior press release