Return to Home
  Legal Update


Modern Campaign Finance Debate

It is without a doubt true that the courts are becoming the ultimate arbiters of many issues affecting our political process. This certainly was true in our most recent presidential election when the United States Supreme Court was called upon to decide issues ultimately impacting the presidential election. It is true as well that the judicial branch is taking a more active role in shaping campaign finance reform.

Last week the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a major case involving campaign finance reform. Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee, No. 00-91, is the sequel to a 1996 Supreme Court decision wherein the Court held that political parties, like individuals, have a First Amendment right to engage in independent expenditures. In the earlier decision, the Court remanded the issue argued last week as to whether a limit on coordinated party spending also violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court took the case after the 10th Circuit declared such limits to be unconstitutional. The saga continues in a case that started over 14 years ago as an administrative proceeding.

Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee is the most current campaign finance litigation involving a political party. This case tests the Supreme Court's tolerance of political parties and presents for the Court an opportunity to expand its holding in the seminal "money is highly protected speech" case of Buckley v. Valeo.

What remains to be seen is what kind of impact the Supreme Court's decision in Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee will have upon recent legislative efforts to enact campaign finance reform. Up for debate is whether coordinated party spending increases the danger of actual political corruption or the appearance of such.

Return to Legal Archive 2001 Index