A few key points that emerge from a first reading of the Roberts opinion:

1.  The Standard of Review for Contribution Limitations

The Court decides not to address the question directly and so it leaves undisturbed, at least in formal terms, the different standards of review, one rigorous and one less so,  employed for “contributions” and “expenditures,” respectively. At the same time, one might ask whether, in any practical application, the differences between these standards matter much at all. This is because the Court continues to insist on a very rigorous definition of the necessary government interest in regulation – actual quid pro quo corruption of candidates or its appearance – and it also rules out an expansive use of anti-circumvention theories, usually highly conceptual as in this case, as a means of satisfying the requirements that any regulation of speech be “closely drawn” to match the government’s interest. There will be ample debate in the coming days about whether the Court has effectively adjusted the burden against the government in contribution cases without actually tampering with the standard of review.

2.  “Circumvention” as a Theory of Corruption

See Point Number One. This theory has been significantly trimmed back by the Court’s skepticism about some of the speculative theories advanced in support of retaining the aggregate contribution limits.

3.   The Role of Parties

One of the more remarkable features of the Roberts  opinion is the strong defense of the role of political parties. As it relates to campaign finance, this position is expressed in the view that party leaders, when acting for the party and its candidates,  do not engage in conduct that gives rise presumptively to actual quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. The Chief and those joining him in his opinion would limit that form of corruption to fundraising by candidates for their own personal benefit. This is a significant portion of the opinion with potential implications for other provisions of the federal campaign finance laws.

4.  The Continued Effect of Independent Expenditures on the Court’s Decision Making

 The Roberts opinion brings independent spending into the case in two ways, in curious juxtaposition.  On the one hand, the ability of wealthy individuals to resort to independent spending is taken to undermine the claim that the elimination of the aggregate limits would open up massive spending through complicated joint fundraising committees or other cumbersome maneuvers.  Why would anyone bother, the Chief Justice essentially asks, when the wealthy have the independent spending option?  But, on the other hand, Roberts suggests,  the elimination of the aggregate limits might prove useful in bringing money back within the regulated party system, subject to disclosure, as an alternative to spending through 501(c)s and other entities that are not subject to transparency requirements.

5. Whither Buckley v. Valeo?

Justice Thomas, at page 5 of his concurrence, probably correctly states that, though not conceded by the plurality, “today’s decision, although purporting not to overrule Buckley, continues to chip away at it footings.”

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