With the national press and legal scholars justifiably fixated on the Supreme Court’s landmark Second Amendment decision, few parties paid proper attention to a second Thursday ruling that bolstered the Bill of Rights. In the case of Davis v. Federal Election Commission, justices struck another blow to the incumbent-protection racket known as McCain-Feingold, correctly siding with First Amendment free speech protections.
The 5-4 decision struck down the campaign finance reform law’s “millionaire’s amendment,” which punished wealthy congressional challengers for using their own fortunes to seek election. The provision stipulates that when a candidate spends more than $350,000 in personal funds, an opponent can accept larger individual contributions and unlimited party expenditures. Although the amendment does not restrict a self-funded candidate’s use of personal wealth, it does severely limit party contributions to that candidate.
Millionaire Democrat Jack Davis of New York lost two races against Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds with the law in place. Mr. Davis sued, arguing that forcing disparate standards on candidates in the egalitarian pursuit of a “fair” campaign actually makes it more difficult for challengers to beat entrenched incumbents with established fund-raising networks. Restricting Mr. Davis’ ability to collect comparable sums from donors and accept money from his own party plainly violated his First Amendment rights.
“We have never upheld the constitutionality of a law that imposes different contribution limits for candidates who are competing against each other,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority.
The John Roberts court has taken bits and pieces out of the McCain-Feingold boondoggle over the past few years, giving us hope that justices might one day reconsider the 2003 ruling that upheld rigid federal regulation of political speech. Absent that possibility, the court’s gradual gutting of this monstrosity is sufficient in signaling that a majority of this group of justices has appropriate respect for free speech rights.