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High court strikes down 'millionaire's amendment'

The move against the fundraising exceptions for wealthy candidates is the latest blow to McCain-Feingold reforms.

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In all three of his campaigns, Davis pledged to pay his own campaign bills rather than seek support from special-interest groups. In 2004, he spent $1.26 million of his own money. In 2006, he lost the election by four percentage points after spending $2.27 million.

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In contrast, Davis's opponent in 2006, Rep. Thomas Reynolds, a four-term Republican, spent $5.1 million. That total included a $1.15 million war chest that existed at the start of the 2006 campaign cycle. In addition, Mr. Reynolds was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the party's campaign organization.

Despite these advantages, incumbent Reynolds is the one who qualified under the millionaire's amendment for campaign-finance-law exemptions that could have yielded him an additional $1.46 million in multiple contributions. In addition, he could have received support from the NRCC.

Reynolds did not exercise his right to accept the extra funds because he didn't need to. He had plenty of donors willing to help him win reelection.

In striking down the law, the majority justices said the campaign-finance laws are designed to eliminate corruption or the appearance of corruption in the political system by limiting the role of money. But Section 319 seems to jettison this goal, they said, by increasing contribution limits for candidates who accept outside donations.

In his dissent, Stevens said combating corruption or the appearance of corruption isn't the only government interest at stake in the nation's campaign-finance laws. He said the government also has an interest in reducing the influence of wealth on election victories and the appearance that wealth alone dictates those results.

"The Millionaire's Amendment quiets no speech at all," Stevens wrote. "On the contrary, it does no more than assist the opponent of a self-funding candidate in his attempts to make his voice heard."

Stevens added, "This amplification in no way mutes the voice of the millionaire, who remains able to speak as loud and as long as he likes in support of his campaign."

Alito said it is not for Congress to try to stage-manage the way a campaign takes place. "Different candidates have different strengths. Some are wealthy; others have wealthy supporters who are willing to make large contributions," he wrote. "Some are celebrities; some have the benefit of a well-known family name."

"Leveling electoral opportunities means making and implementing judgments about which strengths should be permitted to contribute to the outcome of an election," Alito wrote.

Alito's majority decision was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas. In addition to Stevens, Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer dissented.