Who were Buckley and Valeo?
Buckley was Senator James L. Buckley (Cons.-NY), who had led the opposition to the 1974 amendments in the Senate. (He was also the older brother of William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review and the leading voice of the conservative movement at the time.) Senator Buckley was joined by: former Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN); General Motors heir and major campaign contributor Stewart Mott; the Libertarian Party; the American Conservative Union; the New York Conservative Party; Human Events Inc., publishers of the conservative newspaper of the same name; and the American Civil Liberties Union.15
Valeo was Secretary of the Senate Francis R. Valeo. He was not the target of Senator Buckley's suit, but was simply the first of the congressional and executive branch officers who were named as defendants. Those defendants—Valeo, the Clerk of the House, the U.S. attorney general, the U.S. comptroller general, and the Federal Election Commission—were named because the 1974 FECA amendments gave them authority to enforce the new law.16
The chief defenders of the law, however, were not the government officeholders named in the suit but, rather, groups of private citizens, chiefly Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, which the court recognized as intervening defendants. An intervening defendant is someone who is not one of the named defendants in a case but has rights and interests that would be at least equally affected by a court's decision. Common Cause and others sought this recognition because they doubted that the Department of Justice would mount an adequate defense of the 1974 law. Their doubts were well founded.
President Ford did not like the 1974 law and signed it reluctantly. He added a signing statement that expressed reservations about the constitutionality of such key provisions as public funding and contribution and spending limits. The Department of Justice shared those reservations.17
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is normally responsible for defending the constitutionality of legislation, which is why the attorney general was a named defendant. But no one at the top levels of the department liked the law, either. So great was the department's hostility that top officials seriously considered opposing it or staying out of the case. The chair of the recently formed FEC, however, demanded DOJ representation and got an Oval Office meeting to state his case. At that meeting President Ford approved the highly unusual step of filing two briefs: a perfunctory defense of the law and a longer amicus brief that largely opposed it. The most committed defense of the law came from private citizens.18