WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 29, 2006) — By a 6-3 decision the United States Supreme Court held that a Vermont campaign finance statute violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution in Randall v. Sorrell (No. 04-1528). In December 2005, McDermott Will & Emery filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in support of the prevailing challengers to the Vermont statute.
The Vermont statute limited the amount of money that political candidates could spend in state elections (expenditures), and placed very low limits on the amount of money that persons and political parties could contribute to candidates in state elections. The statute also deemed all expenses of volunteers as “contributions” subject to the statute’s low limits, and that all levels of a political party (local, state and national) were one entity for purposes of the low contribution limits. A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had upheld the Vermont statute.
The Supreme Court rejected Vermont’s request to overrule Buckley v. Valero (1976), which held that expenditure limits are presumptively unconstitutional because such limits directly impinge political speech. Vermont argued that its interest in protecting candidates from the burden of fundraising justified the limitation on expenditure limits, but the Court rejected this justification on the basis that Buckley considered, and rejected, the same justification, and that principles of stare decisis required adherence to Buckley.
In its brief, the RNC defended Buckley on the basis of stare decisis and argued that the Vermont statute had the effect of protecting incumbents and unfairly burdening political parties, arguments that the Court accepted in yesterday’s decision. McDermott partners Bobby R. Burchfield and M. Miller Baker, and associate Matthew Leland of the Firm's Washington, D.C. Trial Department submitted the brief on behalf of the RNC.
This decision also struck down Vermont’s extraordinarily low contribution limits, on the basis that these limits were not indexed for inflation, crippled the ability of challengers to run effective campaigns, and threatened the associational rights of political parties and volunteers. The Court, in its first decision ever to invalidate contribution limits, concluded that Vermont could point to no legitimate statutory objective to justify the statute’s heavy burdens on First Amendment rights.
McDermott Will & Emery has represented national and state political parties, national campaign committees, presidential and congressional candidates, corporations and political committees in landmark litigation and regulatory enforcement actions.