The Struggle to Preserve a Free Political System
January 30 marks the fortieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Buckley v. Valeo, a case challenging the constitutionality of every significant provision of the post-Watergate campaign finance “reform” law (known as the Federal Election Campaign Act Amendments of 1974, or “FECA Amendments”). The Buckley majority struck down all limits on campaign expenditures, including independent expenditures and expenditures from a candidate’s personal funds, and also declared that the Congressional role in appointing members of the Federal Election Commission unconstitutional. A divided court upheld contribution limits, the scheme for public funding of presidential elections, and campaign disclosure provisions.
The campaign finance laws still survive in part, distorting and irrationally skewing federal election campaigns. Ralph had predicted and warned against the consequences we see today in Campaign Financing and Political Freedom, published by AEI in October, 1973. Undoubtedly, the struggle to preserve a free political system will continue for as long as the republic lasts, but Ralph Winter — and AEI — will deserve a full measure of credit for protecting the First Amendment. Ralph took an unpopular stand at a time of high emotion, argued it vigorously and well, and history has vindicated his analysis. Forty years after Buckley, his constitutional theory that “money is speech” looks better than ever.