Preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption are the only legitimate and compelling government interests thus far identified for restricting campaign finances.'
This statement by the United States Supreme Court appears to present its position on campaign finance restrictions. It must be viewed, however, in juxtaposition to other often quoted language of the Court concluding that restricting the speech of one in an effort to enhance that of another is contrary to the first amendment. These conclusions led the Court to the dichotomous holding in Buckley v. Valeo that campaign contribution restrictions contained in the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) constitutionally were permissible, but that similar limitations on independent expenditures violated first amendment free speech guarantees. The Court in Buckley defined corruption as the improper exchange of large contributions for commitments from the candidate. The Court concluded that corruption was a sufficient governmental concern and validated the contribution restrictions in FECA. It also found, however, that independent expenditures did not pose a similar risk of corruption. The Court's refusal even to consider a possible governmental interest in equalizing the relative influence of speakers on elections constitutionally left sacrosanct independent expenditures.
Unfortunately, Buckley and its progeny have left campaign finance even more troubled than it was prior to attempts at legislative reform. It is now more difficult for non-wealthy candidates to raise money; simultaneously, massive spending by wealthy candidates and organizations goes uncontrolled. Unregulated expenditures not only have increased the cost of running for office, but also have fueled the political action committee (PAC) phenomenon.' Limits on the amount of contributions and the impracticality of individual expenditures on behalf of candidates have made the lure of PACs as effective campaign spenders even more attractive.
Gerald G. Ashdown,
Controlling Campaign Spending and the "New Corruption": Waiting for the Court,
44 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol44/iss4/1