Wednesday, April 2, 2014

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Comm’n

Elections, contributions:  the right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute. Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 26–27. It may not, however, 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. ___, ___. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), imposes two types of limits on campaign contributions. Base limits restrict how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee while aggregate limits restrict how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees. 2 U. S. C. §441a. In the 2011–2012 election cycle, appellant McCutcheon contributed to 16 different federal candidates, complying with the base limits ap­plicable to each. He alleges that the aggregate limits prevented him from contributing to 12 additional candidates and to a number of noncandidate political committees. He also alleges that he wishes to make similar contributions in the future, all within the base limits. McCutcheon and appellant Republican National Committee filed a complaint before a three-judge District Court, asserting that the ag­gregate limits were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The District Court denied their 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.
Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 893 F. Supp. 2d 133, reversed and remanded. CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS, joined by JUSTICE SCALIA, JUSTICE KENNEDY, and JUSTICE ALITO, concluded that the aggregate limits are inva­lid under the First Amendment. 
(a) Appellants’ substantial First Amendment challenge to the cur­rent system of aggregate limits merits plenary consideration.
(1) In Buckley, this Court evaluated the constitutionality of the original contribution and expenditure limits in FECA. Buckley dis­tinguished the two types of limits based on the degree to which each encroaches upon protected First Amendment interests. It subjected expenditure limits to “the exacting scrutiny applicable to limitations on core First Amendment rights of political expression.” 424 U. S., at 44–45. But it concluded that contribution limits impose a lesser re­straint on political speech and thus applied a lesser but still “rigorous standard of review,” id., at 29, under which such limits “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. Because the Court found that the primary purpose of FECA—preventing quid pro quo corruption and its appearance—was a “sufficiently important” governmental inter­est, id., at 26–27, it upheld the base limit under the “closely drawn” test, id., at 29. After doing so, the Court devoted only one paragraph of its 139-page opinion to the aggregate limit then in place under FECA, noting that the provision “had not been separately addressed at length by the parties.” Id., at 38. It concluded that the aggregate limit served to prevent circumvention of the base limit and was “no more than a corollary” of that limit. Id., at 38.

(2) There is no need in this case to revisit Buckley’s distinction between contributions and expenditures and the corresponding dis­tinction in standards of review. Regardless whether strict scrutiny or the “closely drawn” test applies, the analysis turns on the fit between the stated governmental objective and the means selected to achieve that objective. Here, given the 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.
Buckley’s ultimate conclusion about the constitutionality of the ag­gregate limit in place under FECA does not control here. Buckley spent just three sentences analyzing that limit, which had not been separately addressed by the parties. Appellants here, by contrast, have directly challenged the aggregate limits in place under BCRA, a different statutory regime whose limits operate against a distinct le­gal backdrop. Most notably, statutory safeguards against circumven­tion have been considerably strengthened since Buckley. The 1976 FECA Amendments added another layer of base limits—capping con­tributions from individuals to political committees—and an antipro­liferation rule prohibiting donors from creating or controlling multi­ple affiliated political committees. Since Buckley, the Federal Election Commission has also enacted an intricate regulatory scheme that further limits the opportunities for circumvention of the base limits through “unearmarked contributions to political committees likely to contribute” to a particular candidate. 424 U. S., at 38. In addition to accounting for such statutory and regulatory changes, ap­pellants raise distinct legal arguments not considered in Buckley, in­cluding an overbreadth challenge to the aggregate limit.
(b) Significant First Amendment interests are implicated here. Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political ex­pression and political association. A restriction on how many candi­dates and committees an individual may support is hardly a “modest restraint” on those rights. 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. In its 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. And it is no response to say that the individual can simply contribute less than the base limits permit: to require one person to contribute at lower levels because he wants to support more candidates or causes is to penalize that individual for “robustly exercising” his First Amendment rights. Davis v. Federal Election Comm’n, 554 U. S. 724, 739. In assessing the First Amendment interests at stake, the proper fo­cus is on an individual’s right to engage in political speech, not a col­lective conception of the public good. The whole point of the First Amendment is to protect individual speech that the majority might prefer to restrict, or that legislators or judges might not view as use­ful to the democratic process.
(c) The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmen­tal interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. 
(1) 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. Moreover, the only type of corruption that Congress may target is 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 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. Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310, 359. The line between quid pro quo corruption and general in­fluence must be respected in order to safeguard basic First Amend­ment rights, and the Court must “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 (opinion of ROBERTS, C. J.).
(2) The Government argues 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, even though Congress’s selection of a base limit indicates its belief that contributions beneath that amount do not create a cognizable risk of corruption. The Government must thus defend the aggregate limits by demonstrating that they prevent cir­cumvention of the base limits, a function they do not serve in any meaningful way. Given the statutes and regulations currently in ef­fect, Buckley’s fear that an individual might “contribute massive amounts of money to a particular candidate through . . . unear­marked contributions” to entities likely to support the candidate, 424 U. S., at 38, is far too speculative. Even accepting Buckley’s circum­vention theory, it is hard to see how a candidate today could receive “massive amounts of money” that could be traced back to a particular donor uninhibited by the aggregate limits. The Government’s scenar­ios offered in support of that possibility are either illegal under cur­rent campaign finance laws or implausible.

(3) The aggregate limits also violate the First Amendment be­cause they are not “closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms.” Buckley, supra, at 25. The Government ar­gues that the aggregate limits prevent an individual from giving to too many initial recipients who might then recontribute a donation, but experience suggests that the vast majority of contributions are retained and spent by their recipients. And the Government has pro­vided no reason to believe that candidates or party committees would dramatically shift their priorities if the aggregate limits were lifted. The indiscriminate ban on all contributions above the aggregate lim­its is thus disproportionate to the Government’s interest in prevent­ing circumvention.
Importantly, there are multiple alternatives available to Congress that would serve the Government’s interest in preventing circumven­tion while avoiding “unnecessary abridgment” of First Amendment rights. Buckley, supra, at 25. Such alternatives might include tar­geted restrictions on transfers among candidates and political com­mittees, or tighter earmarking rules. Transfers, after all, are the key to the Government’s concern about circumvention, but they can be addressed without such a direct and broad interference with First Amendment rights.
(4) Disclosure of contributions also reduces the potential for abuse of the campaign finance system. Disclosure requirements, which are justified by “a governmental interest in ‘providing the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending,” Citizens United, supra, at 367, may deter corruption “by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publici­ty,” Buckley, supra at 67. Disclosure requirements may burden speech, but they often represent a less restrictive alternative to flat bans on certain types or quantities of speech. Particularly with mod­ern technology, disclosure now offers more robust protections against corruption than it did when Buckley was decided.

(d) The Government offers an additional rationale for the aggregate limits, arguing that the opportunity for corruption exists whenever a legislator is given a large check, even if the check consists of contri­butions within the base limits to be divided among numerous candi­dates or committees. That rationale dangerously broadens the cir­cumscribed definition of quid pro quo corruption articulated in prior cases. Buckley confined its analysis to the possibility that “massive amounts of money” could be funneled to a particular candidate in ex­cess of the base limits. 424 U. S., at 38. Recasting as corruption a donor’s widely distributed support for a political party would dramat­ically expand government regulation of the political process. And though the Government suggests that solicitation of large contribu­tions poses the corruption danger, the aggregate limits are not lim­ited to any direct solicitation by an officeholder or candidate. 
JUSTICE THOMAS agreed that the aggregate limits are invalid under the First Amendment, but would overrule Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, and subject BCRA’s aggregate limits to strict scrutiny, which they would surely fail. Buckley’s “analytic foundation . . . was tenuous from the very beginning and has only continued to erode in the inter­vening years.” Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U. S. 377, 412 (THOMAS, J., dissenting). Contributions and expenditures are simply “two sides of the same First Amendment coin,” and this Court’s efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere “word games” rather than any cognizable constitutional law principle. Buckley, supra, at 241, 244 (Burger, C. J., concurring in part and dis­senting in part). (U.S.S.Ct., 02.04.2014, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Comm’n, Docket 12-536, C.J. Roberts).

Contributions financières aux candidats à des élections fédérales : le droit de participer au processus démocratique par des contributions politiques est protégé par le Premier Amendement de la Constitution fédérale. Ce droit n’est pas absolu. Le Congrès fédéral peut légiférer le système des contributions dans le cadre des campagnes électorales pour parer la corruption ou son apparence (cf. jurisprudence Buckley). Il ne peut toutefois pas légiférer en matière de contributions seulement pour réduire le montant total des sommes investies dans le domaine politique, ni seulement pour restreindre la participation politique de certains en vue d’augmenter l’influence relative d’autres. Les deux lois fédérales électorales principales prévoient deux types de limites s’agissant des contributions financières dans les campagnes électorales. La limite dite de base restreint le montant qu’un donateur peut allouer à un candidat ou à un comité électoral. La limite combinée, de son côté, restreint les montants qu’un donateur peut allouer à l’ensemble des candidats et des comités électoraux. Dans cette affaire, la cour de district fédérale juge que la limite combinée est conforme au Premier Amendement du fait qu’elle prévient le contournement de la législation sur la limite de base, laquelle n’est pas en cause.
La Cour Suprême fédérale annule ce jugement de première instance, et déclare que la législation sur la limite combinée est contraire au Premier Amendement.
Dans sa jurisprudence Buckley, la Cour ne consacre qu’un paragraphe à la question de la limite combinée, jugeant qu’elle est un corollaire de la limite de base, en ce qu’elle permet d’éviter le contournement de la limite de base, la législation relative à cette dernière étant jugée conforme à la Constitution.
La présente espèce n’implique nullement de revoir la distinction opérée par la jurisprudence Buckley entre contributions et dépenses d’une part, et entre les deux standards qui leurs sont applicables respectivement, d’autre part. Que l’on applique l’un ou l’autre des deux standards (« strict scrutiny » ou « closely drawn »), la question en dernière analyse est celle de la relation entre l’objectif gouvernemental allégué (par exemple prévenir la corruption dans le champ électoral) et les moyens sélectionnées pour atteindre cet objectif. Dans cette affaire, la dichotomie entre l’intérêt gouvernemental allégué et les moyens pour l’atteindre, la législation sur la limite combinée n’est pas conforme à la Constitution.
La présente espèce ne remet en cause que le principe de la législation sur la limite combinée et non celle sur la limite de base. La question de la limite combinée n’a pratiquement pas été abordée par Buckley.
Des intérêts significatifs relevant du Premier Amendement sont ici en jeu : une donation à un candidat dans le cadre d’une campagne électorale constitue pour une personne l’exercice de son droit individuel à participer au processus électoral à la fois par expression politique et par association politique.
Une restriction portant sur le nombre de candidats et de comités électoraux qu’un individu peut soutenir n’est guère une restriction modeste aux droits en matière électorale. Le Gouvernement n’est pas non plus autorisé à prescrire à un journal combien de candidats il est en droit de soutenir. En résumé, la législation sur la limite combinée interdit à un individu de contribuer pleinement aux campagnes des élections primaire et générale lorsque sont en lice 10 candidats ou davantage, même si l’ensemble de ses contributions respectent la limite de base. On ne saurait soutenir à ce niveau qu’il suffit pour le donateur de verser des montants inférieurs à la limite de base pour pouvoir soutenir davantage de candidats. Pratiquer ainsi reviendrait à pénaliser le droit de la personne à exercer ses droits découlant du Premier Amendement de manière énergique (« robustly »).
La législation sur la limite combinée n’est pas adéquate pour concrétiser l’intérêt admissible du Gouvernement à prévenir la corruption ou son apparence.
La Cour n’a identifié qu’un intérêt gouvernemental légitime pour limiter les contributions financières dans les campagnes électorales : prévenir la corruption ou l’apparence de celle-ci. Par ailleurs, contribuer par de larges sommes ne veut encore pas dire vouloir contrôler l’action du parlementaire élu, de sorte que l’apparence de corruption n’est pas réalisée du seul fait de dépenser de larges sommes dans la campagne électorale. La possibilité qu’un donateur qui dépense d’importantes sommes pourrait ainsi influencer l’élu n’est pas en soi un fait établi.
D’autre part, la notion de limite combinée viole aussi le premier Amendement parce qu’elle n’est pas précisément cadrée pour éviter sans nécessité des restrictions à la liberté d’association. L’interdiction sans aucune distinction de toutes les contributions au-dessus de la limite combinée est disproportionnée en comparaison avec l’intérêt gouvernemental à prévenir le contournement de la législation électorale.
Il est important de remarquer que le Congrès dispose de multiples alternatives susceptibles de servir l’intérêt du Gouvernement à prévenir ce contournement, tout en évitant des restrictions sans nécessité des droits découlant du Premier Amendement, telle par exemple une réglementation des restrictions de transferts parmi les candidats et les comités politiques.  Par ailleurs, la publication des contributions réduit également le potentiel d’abus du système de financement des campagnes électorales. Des obligations de publications, justifiées par un intérêt gouvernemental à procurer à l’électorat des informations relatives aux sources des dépenses liées aux élections, peuvent prévenir la corruption en exposant publiquement  aussi bien les larges contributions que les dépenses importantes. Des obligations de publicité peuvent porter atteinte à la liberté d’expression, mais elles représentent souvent une alternative d’une nature moins restrictive que de simples interdictions de certains types ou de certaines « quantité » d’expression. Particulièrement grâce à la technologie moderne, la publication maintenant offre une protection plus robuste contre la corruption qu’à l’époque où a été rendue la jurisprudence Buckley.
Le Juge Thomas est lui aussi d’avis que la législation sur la limite combinée ne résiste pas au Premier Amendement. Mais il souhaiterait en plus renverser la décision Buckley v. Valeo. Selon lui, les contributions et les dépenses ne sont que les deux faces de la même pièce soumise au Premier Amendement, et, toujours selon lui, les efforts de la Cour pour les distinguer n’ont produit que des jeux de mots, au lieu de principes de droit constitutionnel compréhensibles.

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