The Past and Future of Buckley v. Valeo

Presented by the Cato Institute and the Center for Competitive Politics
Date and Time
January 26, 2016 12 - 4:30 PM EST
Congressional A room at the Renaissance Hotel, 999 9th St., NW, Washington, DC
David Savage
David Keating
Floyd Abrams

On January 30, 1976, the United States Supreme Court handed down Buckley v. Valeo, still its most important decision at the intersection of campaign finance and the First Amendment. The Court brought forth a per curiam opinion that invalidated significant parts of the 1974 amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act. The Buckley Court denied Congress the power to limit campaign spending. But not completely. The same Court decided Congress could restrict contributions to candidates to prevent quid pro quo corruption or “the appearance of corruption.” Giving citizens an “equal voice” in elections, however, could not justify suppressing speech.

Buckley v. Valeo pleased few. Free speech advocates lamented the limits on spending imposed through contribution limits. Later they would criticize the ever‐​broadening concept of corruption used to justify ever more restrictions on speech. Advocates of regulation thought money had little to do with speech but a lot to do with inequality. Political realists thought unlimited spending funded by limited contributions would eventually prove unworkable.

Yet Buckley did not fall. It remains a vital precedent that restrains and empowers Congress. But should Buckley be considered a First Amendment failure? Or did it embrace inevitable compromises that were both worse and better than everyone desired? How does Buckley affect the law and American politics and campaigning today? Does the decision have a future? Please join us to discuss these essential questions of First Amendment law and politics.

11:00–11:15AM Introduction

Bradley Smith
, Center for Competitive Politics
11:15AM–12:15PM Why the Buckley Decision Matters

Bradley Smith, Center for Competitive Politics
Floyd Abrams, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
Interviewer: Matea Gold, Washington Post
12:15–1:15PM Lunch
1:15–2:15PM The Impact of Buckley on Campaigns and Elections

Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri
Jay Goodliffe, Brigham Young University
Interviewer: David Keating, Center for Competitive Politics
2:15–2:30PM  Break
2:30–3:30PM What is Living and What Is Dead in Buckley v. Valeo?

John Samples, Cato Institute
Jan Baran, Wiley Rein LLP
Interviewer: David Savage, Los Angeles Times