Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Do the Federal Election Campaign Act’s limits on electoral expenditures violate the 1st Amendment?


Affirmed in part and reversed in part. Parts of the Act were upheld, and others were held to be unconstitutional.


The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended in 1974, contained a large variety of restrictions on political campaign giving and spending. Various federal officeholders and candidates, supporting political organizations, and others brought suit against appellees (the Secretary of the Senate, Clerk of the House, Comptroller General, Attorney General, and the Commission) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against several statutory provisions on various constitutional grounds.

Importance of Case

The Court held that restrictions on individual contributions to political campaigns and candidates did not violate the First Amendment. These restrictions were justified because they could guard against unscrupulous practices and thus enhance the system of representative democracy. However, the Court held that the governmental restriction of independent expenditures in campaigns, the limitation on expenditures by candidates from their own personal or family resources, and the limitation on total campaign expenditures did violate the First Amendment. These restrictions’ minimal effect on reducing corruption did not justify their curtailment of free speech rights under the First Amendment.

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