Paul McMasters reacts to Supreme Court opinion upholding state limits on campaign contributions

Monday, January 24, 2000

The U.S. Supreme Court today “ducked a chance to say whether speech, especially political speech, is truly free or that it must come with a cap,” when it reaffirmed states’ power to impose limits on campaign contributions to political candidates, says First Amendment Ombudsman Paul McMasters, one of the nation’s leading authorities on First Amendment issues.

The court — voting 6-3 in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC [98-963] — reversed a federal appeals court today and held Missouri did not violate free-speech rights when it limited individual contributions to $1,075 to state candidates. About two-thirds of states have such limits. The opinion also is seen as confirming a $1,000 limit for federal candidates.

More of McMasters’ reaction:

“This decision aggravates rather than resolves the gnawing contradiction in its landmark 1976 opinion, Buckley v. Valeo: Limits on campaign spending violate the First Amendment but limits on campaign contributions do not.

“In this instance, the court seems to be saying not only that free speech can be capped but it can be adjusted for inflation — or the winds of public opinion.”

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