In a 5-4 split the Supreme Court delivered another very conservative campaign finance decision yesterday, ruling the "Millionaires' Amendment" provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform (BRCA) law unconstitutional. While its impossible to say what the full implications of this decision are, its clear the Court is no friend to laws that seek to limit the influence of private money on our elections.
The Millionaires' Amendment stipulates that when a candidate faces a wealthy self-financing opponent, and that opponent spends above a certain threshold of their private assets on their election bid (the limit is $350K for the House, and higher in the Senate) the candidate can raise contributions in excess of the federal campaign contribution limits imposed by BCRA.
The Court ruled that this provision puts an undue burden on the wealthy, privately financed candidate and limits their freedom of speech because it provides a means by which their opponent might close the financial gap.
This decision is distressing for a number of reasons. First, it seems to take much greater interest in enhancing the speech of wealthy, self-financing candidates than it does in enabling potential candidates without access to great wealth to be able to run effective campaigns for office. Second, it continues down the misguided path of Buckley v. Valeo in drawing protections around speech as it represents money, as opposed to attempting to enhance the free speech of people seeking to run for office, but for whom the financial barriers are often too high.
While this decision may have implications for Clean Elections down the road -- particularly the matching funds provision of most Clean Elections laws -- it's important to remember Clean Elections has survived numerous court challenges and come out on top. It remains our best hope to advance a more equitable campaign finance system, and to enable us non-millionaires to seek office -- let's keep up the fight!