Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont, 539 U.S. 146, 16 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 146 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

Second, NCRL argues that application of the ban on its contributions should be subject to a strict level of scrutiny, on the ground that 441b does not merely limit contributions, but bans them on the basis of their source. Brief for Respondents 14-16. This argument, however, overlooks the basic premise we have followed in setting First Amendment standards for reviewing political financial restrictions: the level of scrutiny is based on the importance of the "political activity at issue" to effective speech or political association. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, 479 U. S., at 259; see Colorado Republican, 533 U. S., at 440-442, and nn. 6-7; Nixon, 528 U. S., at 386-388. Going back to Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1 (1976), restrictions on political contributions have been treated as merely "marginal" speech restrictions subject to relatively complaisant review under the First Amendment, because contributions lie closer to the edges than to the core of political expression. See Colorado Republican, supra, at 440.8 "While contributions may result in political expression if spent by a candidate or an association . . . , the transformation of contributions into political debate involves

ments of 434(b)(3)(A)). Brief for Respondents 31. We rejected this precise argument, however, in Federal Election Comm'n v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm., 533 U. S. 431 (2001), where we concluded that it "ignores the practical difficulty of identifying and directly combating circumvention under actual political conditions." Id., at 462. "The earmarking provision . . . would reach only the most clumsy attempts to pass contributions through to candidates. To treat the earmarking provision as the outer limit of acceptable tailoring would disarm any serious effort to limit [circumvention]." Ibid.

8 Within the realm of contributions generally, corporate contributions are furthest from the core of political expression, since corporations' First Amendment speech and association interests are derived largely from those of their members, see, e. g., NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U. S. 449, 458-459 (1958), and of the public in receiving information, see, e. g., First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 777 (1978). A ban on direct corporate contributions leaves individual members of corporations free to make their own contributions, and deprives the public of little or no material information.


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