Randall v. Sorrell
548 U.S. 230 (2006)

  • Vermont passed a campaign finance law (Act 64) that imposed a very strict cap on making political contributions. The law also put a cap on expenditures (how much money a candidate could spend).
  • Randall (who was running for office) challenged the law as being an unconstitutional infringement of the 1st Amendment’s right to free speech.
    • In Buckley v. Valeo (424 U.S. 1 (1976)), the US Supreme Court had found that political contributions were a form of speech and thus covered by the 1st Amendment.
  • The Trial Court found that Act 64′s expenditure limits were unconstitutional, but found the contribution limits to be constitutional. Both Randall and Sorrell (Vermont’s Attorney General) appealed.
    • Sorrell argued that the expenditure limits were put in place to stop candidates from wasting time raising money.
    • Sorrell argued that Vermont had a compelling government interest in fighting corruption and ensuring fair elections.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and found that both the contribution limits and the expenditure limits were constitutional. Randall appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that expenditure limits could be constitutional as long as they were narrowly tailored.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found both parts of Act 64 to be unconstitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that expenditure limits violate the candidate’s 1st Amendment right to free speech.
      • The Court reaffirmed Buckley’s prohibition on expenditure limits and found that Vermont’s compelling government interest in stopping the candidates from wasting time raising money was not compelling enough to be constitutional.
    • The Court found that Vermont’s contribution limits ($200-$400 per candidate) were too low, and so were an infringement on the contributor’s 1st Amendment right to free speech.
      • The Court acknowledged that contribution limits could theoretically be constitutional, but not if they were set so low as to be “disproportionate to the public purposes they were enacted to advance.”
        • That’s also a reaffirmation of Buckley.