Supreme Court To Hear Another McCain-Feingold Case
Not The Message The Statute's Sponsor Wants In The News
By Dan McLaughlin Posted in bcra | John McCain | Law | mccainfeingold — Comments (5) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
The Supreme Court today decided to hear the case of Davis v Federal Election Commission (No. 07-320 on the Court's docket). The case focuses on the constitutionality of the so-called "millionaire's amendment," one of the more egregious examples of the pro-incumbent tilt in the statute (which makes no similar allowance for challengers to incumbents with huge war chests); the petitioner's brief frames the issue as follows:
Section 319 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 created the so-called "Millionaires’ Amendment." The three-judge district court found that Congress enacted section 319 to achieve equity between congressional candidates utilizing personal funds for their campaigns and candidates relying mainly on contributed funds. Under the statute, when candidates for the United States House of Representatives exceed $350,000 in personal campaign expenditures their opponents may be entitled to receive: 1) contributions from donors at triple the statutory limit; 2) contributions from donors who have reached their statutory limit for aggregate campaign donations; and 3) coordinated expenditures from party committees in excess of the statutory limit. To effectuate application of section 319, the statute also imposes significant notification and disclosure obligations upon self-financed candidates. The questions presented are:
1. Whether the three-judge district court erred in finding
that Congress’s attempt to equalize a potential imbalance in
resources between congressional candidates violates neither
the First Amendment to the United States Constitution nor the
Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
2. If equalizing a potential imbalance in resources of
congressional candidates is constitutional, whether the federal
statutory provision accomplishes the stated purpose.
The “millionaire’s amendment” issue is raised by a self-financed candidate, Jack Davis, a defeated Democratic nominee for Congress from New York’s 26th District. He contends that the amendment was beyond Congress’ power. Since campaign finance limits must be based upon an attempt to end corruption in politics, or at least to curb the appearance of corruption, the appeal argues, Congress cannot attempt to equalize political resources among candidates because one who uses his own money to pay for a campaign is not corrupting anyone or anything.
One of the issues that the Supreme Court will confront when it takes up the case at a hearing is whether Davis had a right to sue — that is, whether he had “standing.” The Federal Election Commission, in opposing his appeal, argued that he lacked any proof of injury because the candidate who ran against him in 2006 — Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds — did not take advantage of the amendment to raise more money or to coordinate his spending with his political party, the Republican Party.
The amendment is triggered when a self-financed candidate intends to spend more than $350,000 in personal funds on a campaign. The opponent then can gather contributions up to three times the usual limit on campaign contributions, may receive donations from individuals who have already reached the usual limit of their annual contributions, and may coordinate with their political party to contribute more than it otherwise could legally.
Given the unpopularity of BCRA with Republicans, this isn't really the time when John McCain wants this issue back in the news, in particular the collision between his campaign finance bill and the view taken of that bill by conservative judges (then again, the actual decision in the case won't come until long after the primaries are over). My guess just from a quick perusal is that the Court will probably end up throwing Davis' challenge out on standing grounds. But the provision does nicely illustrate how malleable are Congress' concerns about "corruption."