Supreme Court Casts a Vote for Millionaires


Millionaires running for Congress will no longer have to worry if spending their own money in a race will give their opponents an advantage. On June 26 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the so-called Millionaires' Amendment in federal election law is unconstitutional. Jack Davis, a wealthy factory owner from upstate New York and a three-time congressional candidate, originally challenged the measure, which allows congressional candidates who face wealthy, self-funded opponents to raise more than fundraising limits normally allow. Davis argued the provision deterred candidates from spending their own money and, therefore, limited their freedom of speech.

The high court agreed. In a 5 to 4 vote, the justices determined that the Millionaires' Amendment, which was written into the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (commonly called McCain-Feingold, because of its chief sponsors), violates the First Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority: "Different candidates have different strengths. Some are wealthy; others have wealthy supporters who are willing to make large contributions. Some are celebrities; some have the benefit of a well-known family name. Leveling electoral opportunities means making and implementing judgments about which candidates should be permitted to contribute to the outcome of an election. The Constitution, however, confers upon voters, not Congress, the power to choose the Members of the House of Representatives, and it is dangerous business for Congress to use the election laws to influence the voters' choices."

The Millionaires' Amendment kicks in when a self-financing candidate for the House puts at least $350,000 more than his or her opponent into the race. (The threshold for Senate races is based on the state's population.) Although the implications of the case may be widespread (including its effect on public financing, as well as political spending by corporations and unions), the measure itself isn't often invoked.

So far this election cycle, the number of congressional candidates who have put at least $350,000 into their own campaigns appears to be lower than the total by the end of the 2006 election cycle, CRP found. In the 2006 election cycle, 52 congressional candidates spent at least $350,000 on their own campaigns, compared to at least 28 so far this cycle. In 2006, the "millionaire" candidates together put in a total of $117.1 million of their own money. So far this cycle, they've put in at least $27.9 million. Some may have been waiting to see how this case played out before reaching deeper into their own pockets.

Here's a full list of candidates in 2008 who have put in at least $350,000 of their own money: SelfFunded08Candidates.rtf

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