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The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, Political Parties, and the First Amendment: Lessons from Missouri

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Washington University Law Quarterly


In Shrink Missouri Government PAC v. Nixon (Shrink Missouri) and FEC v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (Colorado II), the Supreme Court tipped the First Amendment balance in favor of government regulation and against political speech and association. The Eighth Circuit’s recent decision upholding Missouri limits on campaign contributions made by state political parties to their candidates demonstrates how heavily the scales are weighted in favor of regulation. If protection of political speech really is at the core of the First Amendment, then the Court must put the burden of justifying campaign contribution limits—like the burden of justifying all other limits on political activity—on the government. It must examine critically claims that contributions, pejoratively labeled “soft money,” create an appearance of corruption. Appearances are in the eye of the beholder, and an appearance of corruption may arise whenever an official votes or takes other actions consistent with the position of a contributor. Most importantly, the Court must examine critically the effects of contribution limits on our basic political freedoms.