Last week, rare cheers were heard for a Supreme Court ruling. The High Court, in D.C. v. Heller, overturned the District of Columbia’s gun ban, upholding the Second Amendment.
But don’t miss another decision, handed down the very same day, dealing with the First Amendment. In Davis v. Federal Election Commission, the Court struck down the so-called “Millionaire’s Amendment” contained in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, thus upholding at least part of the First Amendment.
The 5-4 Court majority answered the question correctly: Yes, it is unconstitutional to jigger the system so that two candidates running for the same office might be operating under different limits — with one candidate able to gather individual donations three times larger than the other, and able to receive unlimited party transfers, while the other suffers under more stringent limits.
As Judge Samuel Alito wrote for the 5-4 majority: “We have never upheld the constitutionality of a law that imposes different contribution limits for candidates who are competing against each other . . .”
But Davis v. FEC is noteworthy not so much for its answer as for the light it shines on the hidden agendas inside today’s mess of politicized campaign regulation.
The facts are plain. Jack Davis, a wealthy Democrat, challenged Republican incumbent Congressman Thomas Reynolds for the congressional seat in New York’s 26th district in 2004 and 2006. In both races, Davis spent more than $350,000 of his own money and outspent the incumbent. Incidentally, both times he lost narrowly.
Under the Millionaire’s Amendment provision of the nightmarish McCain-Feingold law, a candidate who spends $350,000 of his own money, and, under a complicated formula, is spending $350,000 more than the other candidate, triggers a brand new scheme of contribution limits. These new limits allow the lesser-funded candidate to raise contributions that the candidate, who is largely or entirely self-financing, cannot.