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Buckley Vs Valeo is the landmark case involving the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), as amended in 1974, and the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act.
A lawsuit was filed in the District Court for the D.C., on January 2, 1975, by Senator James L. Buckley of New York, former Senator, 1968 presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, and others. The suit was filed against Francis R. Valeo, the Secretary of the Senate and ex officio member of the FEC who represented the U.S. federal government. The court denied plaintiffs' request for declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs then appealed to the Court of Appeals.
The Court upheld the constitutionality of certain provisions of the election law, including:
The limitations on contributions to candidates for federal office (2 U.S.C. 441a); the disclosure and recordkeeping provisions of the FECA (2 U.S.C. 434); and :the public financing of Presidential elections :
The Court declared other provisions of the FECA to be unconstitutional, in particular: the limitations on expenditures by candidates and their committees, except for Presidential candidates who accept public funding (formerly 18 U.S.C. 608(c)(1)(C-F));the $1,000 limitation on independent expenditures (formerly 18 U.S.C. 608e); the limitations on expenditures by candidates from their personal funds (formerly 18 U.S.C. 608a); and the method of appointing members of the Federal Election Commission (formerly 2 U.S.C. 437c(a)(1)(A-C)).
The court's decision in effect overruled two major parts of the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act which imposed mandatory spending limits on all federal races, and limited independent spending on behalf of federal candidates. The court ruled that such restrictions violated an individual's First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.
The subsequent rise in "soft money" campaign contributions and "issue ads" led to growing concerns about corruption and the influence of pressure groups in federal election campaigns, culminating in the McCain-Feingold legislation of 2002.