Sunday, April 17, 2011

Limits On Campaign Funding?

The 2008 United State Supreme Court case, Jack Davis vs the Federal Election Commission (07-320), contested the “Millionaires’ Amendment” of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 – Section 319(a) which ultimately pertained to the limitations of self-funded and non-self-funded political campaigns. The case was originally heard by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and was later appealed directly to the US Supreme Court by Davis.

Plaintiff Jack Davis had announced his intent to run for New York’s 26th House seat in March of 2006. Along with that announcement, he stated he would personally be funding his campaign with expenditures over $350,000. Since he was going to spend that much on his own campaign, the “Millionaire’s Amendment” was triggered, which allowed his opponent, who was not self-funded, to receive donations from individual’s that tripled the set limit of $2,300 to $6,900. The amendment also allowed the opposition to receive unlimited funding from both national and State party committees (07-320, Davis vs Federal Elections Commission).

Davis believed that the “Millionaires’ Amendment” violated his First Amendment right to speak out and support his own campaign. This led him to file a suit against the Federal Election Commission asking the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to deem the “Millionaires’ Amendment” of BCRA as unconstitutional. He also believed that it violated his Equal Protection Provision of the Fifth Amendment. However, the three-judge panel found the §319(a) to be constitutional because they thought it did not damage his exercise of political speech. This ruling led Davis to appeal directly to the US Supreme Court. It took the Court two years to finally see the case by which time Davis was preparing to run once again for the House seat. He was unsuccessful his first time around.

When the Supreme Court did hear the case, they heard from both the plaintiff Davis and the defendant FEC. Davis argued the same as he had n the District court: §319(a) violated his First Amendment right and caused damages by “enabling his opponent to raise more money and to use that money to finance speech that counteracts and thus diminishes the effectiveness of Davis’ own speech”(Davis vs FEC, 2008). The FEC rebutted that argument with “his opponent had not yet qualified for the asymmetrical limits, and later, when his opponent did qualify to take advantage of those limits, he chose not to do so….§319(a) did not cause Davis any injury.”(Davis vs FEC, 2008).

After hearing both sides and evaluating the situation, the Supreme Court came to a conclusion that was opposite of the District Court’s. They found §319(a) to be unconstitutional because it did raise the limits of campaign financing across the both parties, it only benefited the non-self-financing candidate. The court stated that “(they) never upheld the constitutionality of a law that imposes different contribution limits for candidates who are competing against each other, and we agree with Davis that this scheme impermissibly burdens his First Amendment right to spend his own money for campaign speech,”(Davis vs FEC, 2008).

In the end, Davis vs FEC(2008) made a lasting effect on political campaigns for both the House of Representatives and Senate because of the final outcome decided by the Supreme Court. Political campaigns and elections are very prominent and always have been. The ruling impacts the way political figures act and spend while on the campaign trail. It has its benefits for both the wealthy and non-wealthy candidates, but ultimately, it will likely benefit the richest ones. Its likely that there will be another case like this in the future because of how prominent politics are in our society.


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