Spending Power Law and Legal Definition

Spending power means the power vested with a governmental body to spend public funds. For example, the congressional power to spend money for the payment of debt is a spending power of a governmental body. Congress's spending power is broad and is not limited by the direct grants of legislative power found in the constitution.

In Charles v. Verhagen, 220 F. Supp. 2d 955 (D. Wis. 2002), the court observed that “The United States Supreme Court has identified four limitations on Congress's spending power. The first of these limitations is derived from the language of the Constitution itself: the exercise of the spending power must be in pursuit of "the general welfare." Second, the Court has required that if Congress desires to condition the states' receipt of federal funds, it must do so unambiguously, enabling the states to exercise their choice knowingly, cognizant of the consequences of their participation. Third, Supreme Court cases have suggested (without significant elaboration) that conditions on federal grants might be illegitimate if they are unrelated to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs. Finally, the Court has noted that other constitutional provisions may provide an independent bar to the conditional grant of federal funds. On top of these specific limitations, the Court has suggested a general requirement that conditional spending programs must be more in the nature of a carrot than a stick. Therefore, conditions may be unconstitutional when they cross the line between permissible encouragement and impermissible coercion.”