Legal Library

Albanese v. Federal Election Commission

OverviewThe legal challenge to the Wealth Primary began in July of 1994 with the filing of Albanese v. FEC. See the amended complaint, appellate brief, appellate reply brief, and petition for certiorari in Albanese v. FEC.

Filed on July 13th, 1994 in U.S. District Court, Albanese v. FEC was brought on behalf of City Councilman Sal Albanese, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress, and 13 voters who had supported his campaign. Sal Albanese, a five-term member of the New York City Council, had run as the Democratic nominee in the 13th Congressional district of New York (an area covering Staten Island and a section of Brooklyn). Despite widespread public support, Albanese lost the general election to the incumbent Susan Molinari, who outspent him almost two to one. After the election, Albanese and a group of 13 other New Yorkers brought suit against Molinari, her campaign committee and the Federal Elections Commission.

Fulfilling the Promise of American Democracy
For the first time, Albanese v. FEC challenged the congressional campaign finance system on constitutional grounds. The suit argued that the wealth primary system unfairly tilts the electoral playing field in favor of those who have money or access to it. Its emphasis on fundraising and unlimited expeditures effectively reduces the political clout of the non-wealthy. Not only is this unfair, but this is also unconstitutional and contrary the 14th Amendment's promise of equal protection under the law.

Case development
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit refused to allow the plaintiffs to be heard on the merits of their constitutional claims. The plaintiffs sought review from the U.S. Supreme Court and in early October 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Institute's petition to review the Second Circuit's decision. Despite the Supreme Court's unfortunate refusal to hear the merits of the voters' constitutional claims, the Albanese case, as the Institute's first litigation project, generated significant national attention and served as the legal focal point for redefining the issue of private money in politics as a basic right-to-vote question.