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Excerpts of high court campaign finance opinions

  • Article by: The Associated Press
  • Associated Press
  • April 2, 2014 - 5:10 PM

Excerpts from the opinions of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, in support of Wednesday's ruling striking down limits in federal law on overall campaign contributions to candidates and political committees, and from the dissenting opinion of Justice Stephen Breyer:

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ROBERTS

"Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition."

"An aggregate limit on how many candidates and committees an individual may support is not a modest restraint at all. The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse. ... The individual may give up to $5,200 each to nine candidates, but the aggregate limits constitute an outright ban on further contributions to any other candidate."

"The government argues that the aggregate limits are justified because they prevent an individual from giving to too many initial recipients who might subsequently recontribute a donation. After all, only recontributed funds can conceivably give rise to circumvention of the base limits. Yet all indications are that many types of recipients have scant interest in regifting donations they receive. ... Based on what we can discern from experience, the indiscriminate ban on all contributions above the aggregate limits is disproportionate to the government's interest in preventing circumvention."

"Finally, disclosure of contributions minimizes the potential for abuse of the campaign finance system. ... Today, given the Internet, disclosure offers much more robust protections against corruption. Reports and databases are available on the FEC's website almost immediately after they are filed, supplemented by private entities such as opensecrets.org and followthemoney.org. ... The existing aggregate limits may in fact encourage the movement of money away from entities subject to disclosure. ... Individuals can, for example, contribute unlimited amounts to 501 (c) organizations, which are not required to publicly disclose their donors. Such organizations spent some $300 million on independent expenditures in the 2012 election cycle."

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THOMAS

Advocating the overruling of the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision that upheld contribution limits:

"Contributions and expenditures are simply two sides of the same First Amendment coin, and our efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere word games rather than any cognizable principle of constitutional law."

"This case represents yet another missed opportunity to right the course of our campaign finance jurisprudence by restoring a standard that is faithful to the First Amendment."

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