Green Light for Wealthy Candidates

Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:23am

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the “Millionaires’ Amendment” on Thursday, calling the law designed to protect Members who are facing wealthy challengers “fundamentally at war” with federal campaign expenditure and contribution limits.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court sided with Buffalo, N.Y.-area factory owner Jack Davis (D), who challenged the law two years ahead of his rematch with then-National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.).

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “different candidates have different strengths,” but that the law, which increases contribution limits for lawmakers who face wealthy challengers — or challengers facing wealthy lawmakers — violates the First Amendment.

Alito was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

“Some are wealthy, others have wealthy supporters who are willing to make large contributions … some are celebrities, some have the benefit of a well-known family name,” Alito wrote for the majority. “Leveling electoral opportunities means making and implementing judgments about which strengths should be permitted to contribute to the outcome of an election.”

“The Constitution, however, confers upon voters, not Congress, the power to choose the Members of the House of Representatives and it is a dangerous business for Congress to use the election laws to influence the voters’ choices.”

“If the normally applicable limits on individual contributions and coordinated party contributions are seriously distorting the electoral process, if they are feeding a ‘public perception that wealthy people can buy seats in Congress,’ and if those limits are not needed in order to combat corruption, then the obvious remedy is to raise or eliminate those limits,” Alito continued. “But the unprecedented step of imposing different contribution and coordinated party expenditure limits on candidates vying for the same seat is antithetical to the First Amendment.”

Andrew Herman, Davis’ lawyer, said the case now goes back to a lower court, which he expected would reach similar conclusions in time to throw out the law before the 2008 election.

“We’re very gratified,” Herman said. “We feel like the Supreme Court agreed pretty much exactly with the arguments we made in our brief.”