What We Do

Challenging Hard Money Contribution Limit Increases in McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Law:

On May 7, 2002, NVRI, on behalf of a coalition of non-wealthy voters, candidates, and public interest organizations -- including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Fannie Lou Hamer Project and ACORN -- filed a constitutional challenge in federal district court in Washington to the hard-money limit increases to the recently passed McCain-Feingold campaign reform law.

The lawsuit alleges that the increases in the hard money contribution limits discriminate against non-wealthy voters and candidates based on their economic status in violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the United States Constitution.

For nearly three decades, federal campaign finance law has prohibited individuals from contributing more that $1,000 to a congressional or presidential candidate in any primary or general election. A provision of the McCain-Feingold law, known formally as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), raises individual limits to $2,000 per donor in federal races, thereby doubling the amount of hard money in the political system. Hard money accounts for more than 80 percent of the funds raised by federal candidates and parties and comes predominantly from the wealthiest one percent of the nation's population. A separate provision, the "millionaire amendment," raises individual limits to the range of $6,000 to $12,000 per donor in races involving self-funded candidates.

NVRI believes that the hard money increases in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act will further diminish the role of ordinary voters in deciding who runs for federal office and who ultimately wins elections. While we are challenging the negative aspects of the new law, we support the soft money regulations.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and others have filed challenges to BCRA, alleging violations of the First Amendment. Senator McConnell and others argue that corporations and wealthy donors should be permitted to make unlimited donations to political parties. In contrast, NVRI supports the ban on soft money but challenges, for the first time, the increases in the hard money contribution limits on equal protection grounds.

A special three-judge federal court has been assigned to hear all of the challenges to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, with direct review by the United States Supreme Court. These consolidated cases will mark the first time in 27 years that the Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of a campaign reform law passed by the U.S. Congress. Our challenge ensures that the nation's highest court will hear arguments made on behalf of non-wealthy voters and candidates focusing on political equality principles grounded in the Equal Protection Clause.

Victoria Gray Adams serves as the lawsuit's lead plaintiff. Ms. Adams is one of the original founders, with Fannie Lou Hamer, of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the seating of Mississippi's all-white delegation at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. In 1965, Ms. Adams, Ms. Hamer, and another civil rights worker, Annie Devine, became the first African-American women in history to be seated on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Boston-based National Voting Rights Institute, which specializes in campaign finance litigation, serves as the lead counsel for the plaintiffs. The Washington, D.C. office of Hale and Dorr LLP serves as local counsel.

For further discussion on the legal reasons behind the equality arguments in this case, download the background memo (pdf).

Download the Press Release (pdf) or read the legal filings in the case by visiting our legal library.

Challenging Barriers: