Francis R. 'Frank' Valeo; Player In Campaign Finance Debate

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Francis R. "Frank" Valeo, 90, a former secretary of the U.S. Senate and, by chance, the defendant in Buckley v. Valeo , a U.S. Supreme Court decision that likened money to freedom of expression and set the course for decades of campaign finance debate, died April 9 at his home in Chevy Chase. He had lung and kidney ailments.

A protege of Sen. Mike Mansfield's (D-Mont.), the long-serving majority leader, Mr. Valeo was secretary of the Senate from 1966 to 1977.

His administrative responsibilities came to include enforcement of campaign finance matters. He called this new role a "kind of last-minute thought" after passage of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, which strengthened public disclosure requirements and placed spending limits on candidates.

After Watergate, senators called for further changes to the act. But Mr. Valeo, who was fielding complaints from politicians riled by the original legislation, urged senators to proceed gingerly with any changes.

Instead, Congress went ahead in 1974 with an amendment that forced new restrictions on individual contributors. The amendment also created public financing for presidential elections and limited total spending for a campaign.

This spurred a civil lawsuit supported by an unorthodox alliance of conservatives, socialists, labor officials and Vietnam War protesters. James L. Buckley, then a Conservative Party U.S. senator from New York, lent his name to the suit protesting the 1974 amendment.

Despite his misgivings about the amendment's hasty passage, Mr. Valeo became the defendant by virtue of his job. In the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, the Supreme Court upheld public disclosure requirements, public financing of presidential elections and the limits on individual contributions.

However, the court struck down on constitutional grounds -- citing mainly First Amendment concerns -- many of the provisions on spending limits, such as what an individual could give independently of a campaign or candidate.

"Valeo is part of the history of campaign finance law, the most important campaign finance law in the last 50 years," said Lawrence Noble, a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission and former director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that studies money in politics.

Noble said several subsequent challenges have largely "reaffirmed the basic structure of Buckley v. Valeo ."

Mr. Valeo told Roll Call that he had no interactions with Buckley during the legal ordeal but that he autographed a copy of the high court decision and sent it to the senator. In turn, Buckley sent Mr. Valeo a copy of the same decision inscribed to a " 'good loser,' or something to that effect."

Francis Ralph Valeo, the son of a shoe factory foreman, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1916. He was a 1936 political science graduate of New York University, where he also received a master's degree in international relations in 1942.

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