Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Com'n (95-489), 518 U.S. 604 (1996)
[ Breyer ]
[ Kennedy ]
[ Thomas ]
[ Stevens ]
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NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.


No. 95-489


on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

[June 26, 1996]

Justice Breyer announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Justice O'Connor and Justice Souter join.

In April 1986, before the Colorado Republican Party had selected its senatorial candidate for the fall's election, that Party's Federal Campaign Committee bought radio advertisements attacking Timothy Wirth, the Democratic Party's likely candidate. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) charged that this "expenditure" exceeded the dollar limits that a provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) imposes upon political party "expenditure[s] in connection with" a "general election campaign" for congressional office. 90 Stat. 486, as amended, 2 U.S.C. § 441a(d)(3). This case focuses upon the constitutionality of those limits as applied to this case. We conclude that the First Amendment prohibits the application of this provision to the kind of expenditure at issue here--an expenditure that the political party has made independently, without coordination with any candidate.

To understand the issues and our holding, one must begin with FECA as it emerged from Congress in 1974. That Act sought both to remedy the appearance of a "corrupt" political process (one in which large contributions seem to buy legislative votes) and to level the electoral playing field by reducing campaign costs. See Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 25-27 (1976) (per curiam). It consequently imposed limits upon the amounts that individuals, corporations, "political committees" (such as political action committees, or PAC's), and political parties could contribute to candidates for federal office, and it also imposed limits upon the amounts that candidates, corporations, labor unions, political committees, and political parties could spend, even on their own, to help a candidate win election. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 608 610 (1970 ed., Supp. IV).

This Court subsequently examined several of the Act's provisions in light of the First Amendment's free speech and association protections. See Federal Election Comm'n v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U.S. 238 (1986); Federal Election Comm'n v. National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U.S. 480 (1985) (NCPAC); California Medical Assn. v. Federal Election Comm'n, 453 U.S. 182 (1981); Buckley, supra. In these cases, the Court essentially weighed the First Amendment interest in permitting candidates (and their supporters) to spend money to advance their political views, against a "compelling" governmental interest in assuring the electoral system's legitimacy, protecting it from the appearance and reality of corruption. See Massachusetts Citizens for Life, supra, at 256-263; NCPAC, supra, at 493-501; California Medical Assn., supra, at 193-199; Buckley, supra, at 14-23. After doing so, the Court found that the First Amendment prohibited some of FECA's provisions, but permitted others.

Most of the provisions this Court found unconstitutional imposed expenditure limits. Those provisions limited candidates' rights to spend their own money, Buckley, supra, at 51-54, limited a candidate's campaign expenditures, 424 U. S., at 54-58, limited the right of individuals to make "independent" expenditures (not coordinated with the candidate or candidate's campaign), id., at 39-51, and similarly limited the right of political committees to make "independent" expenditures, NCPAC, supra, at 497. The provisions that the Court found constitutional mostly imposed contribution limits--limits that apply both when an individual or political committee contributes money directly to a candidate and also when they indirectly contribute by making expenditures that they coordinate with the candidate, §441a(a)(7)(B)(i). See Buckley, supra, at 23-36. See also 424 U. S., at 46-48; California Medical Assn., supra, at 193-199 (limits on contributions to political committees). Consequently, for present purposes, the Act now prohibits individuals and political committees from making direct, or indirect, contributions that exceed the following limits:

(a) For any "person": $1,000 to a candidate "with respect to any election"; $5,000 to any political committee in any year; $20,000 to the national committees of a political party in any year; but all within an overall limit (for any individual in any year) of $25,000. 2 U.S.C. §§ 441a(a)(1), (3).

(b) For any "multicandidate political committee": $5,000 to a candidate "with respect to any election"; $5,000 to any political committee in any year; and $15,000 to the national committees of a political party in any year. §441a(a)(2).

FECA also has a special provision, directly at issue in this case, that governs contributions and expenditures by political parties. §441a(d). This special provision creates, in part, an exception to the above contribution limits. That is, without special treatment, political parties ordinarily would be subject to the general limitation on contributions by a "multicandidate political committee" just described. See §441a(a)(4). That provision, as we said in (b) above, limits annual contributions by a "multicandidate political committee" to no more than $5,000 to any candidate. And as also mentioned above, this contribution limit governs not only direct contributions but also indirect contributions that take the form of coordinated expenditures, defined as "expenditures made . . . in cooperation, consultation, or concert, with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, his authorized political committees, or their agents." §441a(a)(7)(B)(i). Thus, ordinarily, a party's coordinated expenditures would be subject to the $5,000 limitation.

However, FECA's special provision, which we shall call the "Party Expenditure Provision," creates a general exception from this contribution limitation, and from any other limitation on expenditures. It says:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law with respect to limitations on expenditures or limitations on contributions, . . . political party [committees] . . . may make expenditures in connection with the general election campaign of candidates for Federal office . . . ." §441a(d)(1) (emphasis added).

After exempting political parties from the general contribution and expenditure limitations of the statute, the Party Expenditure Provision then imposes a substitute limitation upon party "expenditures" in a senatorial campaign equal to the greater of $20,000 or "2 cents multiplied by the voting age population of the State," §441a(d)(3)(A)(i), adjusted for inflation since 1974, §441a(c). The Provision permitted a political party in Colorado in 1986 to spend about $103,000 in connection with the general election campaign of a candidate for the United States Senate. See FEC Record, vol. 12, no. 4, p. 1 (Apr. 1986). (A different provision, not at issue in this case, §441a(d)(2), limits party expenditures in connection with presidential campaigns. Since this case involves only the provision concerning congressional races, we do not address issues that might grow out of the public funding of Presidential campaigns).

In January 1986, Timothy Wirth, then a Democratic Congressman, announced that he would run for an open Senate seat in November. In April, before either the Democratic primary or the Republican convention, the Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (Colorado Party), the petitioner here, bought radio advertisements attacking Congressman Wirth. The State Democratic Party complained to the Federal Election Commission. It pointed out that the Colorado Party had previously assigned its $103,000 general election allotment to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, leaving it without any permissible spending balance. See Federal Election Comm'n v. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Comm., 454 U.S. 27 (1981) (state party may appoint national senatorial campaign committee as agent to spend its Party Expenditure Provision allotment). It argued that the purchase of radio time was an "expenditure in connection with the general election campaign of a candidate for Federal office," §441a(d)(3), which, consequently, exceeded the Party Expenditure Provision limits.

The FEC agreed with the Democratic Party. It brought a complaint against the Colorado Republican Party, charging a violation. The Colorado Party defended in part by claiming that the Party Expenditure Provision's expenditure limitations violated the First Amendment--a charge that it repeated in a counterclaim that said the Colorado Party intended to make other "expenditures directly in connection with" senatorial elections, App. 68, ¶48, and attacked the constitutionality of the entire Party Expenditure Provision. The Federal District Court interpreted the Provision's words " `in connection with' the general election campaign of a candidate" narrowly, as meaning only expenditures for advertising using " `express words of advocacy of election or defeat.' " 839 F. Supp. 1448, 1455 (Colo. 1993) (quoting Buckley, 424 U. S., at 46, n. 52). See also Massachusetts Citizens for Life, 479 U. S., at 249. As so interpreted, the court held, the provision did not cover the expenditures here. The court entered summary judgment for the Colorado Party and dismissed its counterclaim as moot.

Both sides appealed. The Government, for the FEC, argued for a somewhat broader interpretation of the statute--applying the limits to advertisements containing an "electioneering message" about a "clearly identified candidate," FEC Advisory Op. 1985-14, 2 CCH Fed. Election Camp. Fin. Guide ¶5819, p. 11,185 (May 30, 1985) (AO 1985-14)--which, it said, both covered the expenditure and satisfied the Constitution. The Court of Appeals agreed. It found the Party Expenditure Provision applicable, held it constitutional, and ordered judgment in the FEC's favor. 59 F. 3d 1015, 1023-1024 (CA10 1995).

We granted certiorari primarily to consider the Colorado Party's argument that the Party Expenditure Provision violates the First Amendment "either facially or as applied." Pet. for Cert. i. For reasons we shall discuss in Part IV below, we consider only the latter question--whether the Party Expenditure Provision as applied here violates the First Amendment. We conclude that it does.

The summary judgment record indicates that the expenditure in question is what this Court in Buckley called an "independent" expenditure, not a "coordinated" expenditure that other provisions of FECA treat as a kind of campaign "contribution." See Buckley, supra, at 36-37, 46-47, 78; NCPAC, 470 U. S., at 498. The record describes how the expenditure was made. In a deposition, the Colorado Party's Chairman, Howard Callaway, pointed out that, at the time of the expenditure, the Party had not yet selected a senatorial nominee from among the three individuals vying for the nomination. App. 195-196. He added that he arranged for the development of the script at his own initiative, id., at 200, that he, and no one else, approved it, id., at 199, that the only other politically relevant individuals who might have read it were the party's executive director and political director, ibid., and that all relevant discussions took place at meetings attended only by party staff, id., at 204.

Notwithstanding the above testimony, the Government argued in District Court--and reiterates in passing in its brief to this Court, Brief for Respondent 27, n. 20--that the deposition showed that the Party had coordinated the advertisement with its candidates. It pointed to Callaway's statement that it was the practice of the party to "coordinat[e] with the candidate" "campaign strategy," App. 195, and for Callaway to be "as involved as [he] could be" with the individuals seeking the Republican nomination, ibid., by making available to them "all of the assets of the party," id., at 195-196. These latter statements, however, are general descriptions of party practice. They do not refer to the advertising campaign at issue here or to its preparation. Nor do they conflict with, or cast significant doubt upon, the uncontroverted direct evidence that this advertising campaign was developed by the Colorado Party independently and not pursuant to any general or particu lar understanding with a candidate. We can find no "genuine" issue of fact in this respect. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 56(e); Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-587 (1986). And we therefore treat the expenditure, for constitutional purposes, as an "independent" expenditure, not an indirect campaign contribution.

So treated, the expenditure falls within the scope of the Court's precedents that extend First Amendment protection to independent expenditures. Beginning with Buckley, the Court's cases have found a "fundamental constitutional difference between money spent to advertise one's views independently of the candidate's campaign and money contributed to the candidate to be spent on his campaign." NCPAC, supra, at 497. This difference has been grounded in the observation that restrictions on contributions impose "only a marginal restriction upon the contributor's ability to engage in free communication," Buckley, supra, at 20-21, because the symbolic communicative value of a contribution bears little relation to its size, 424 U. S., at 21, and because such limits leave "persons free to engage in independent political expression, to associate actively through volunteering their services, and to assist to a limited but nonetheless substantial extent in supporting candidates and committees with financial resources." Id., at 28. At the same time, reasonable contribution limits directly and materially advance the Government's interest in preventing exchanges of large financial contributions for political favors. Id., at 26-27.

In contrast, the Court has said that restrictions on independent expenditures significantly impair the ability of individuals and groups to engage in direct political advocacy and "represent substantial . . . restraints on the quantity and diversity of political speech." Id., at 19. And at the same time, the Court has concluded that limitations on independent expenditures are less directly related to preventing corruption, since "[t]he absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate . . . not only undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate, but also alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate." Id., at 47.

Given these established principles, we do not see how a provision that limits a political party's independent expenditures can escape their controlling effect. A political party's independent expression not only reflects its members' views about the philosophical and governmental matters that bind them together, it also seeks to convince others to join those members in a practical democratic task, the task of creating a government that voters can instruct and hold responsible for subsequent success or failure. The independent expression of a political party's views is "core" First Amendment activity no less than is the independent expression of individuals, candidates, or other political committees. See, e.g., Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm., 489 U.S. 214 (1989).

We are not aware of any special dangers of corruption associated with political parties that tip the constitutional balance in a different direction. When this Court considered, and held unconstitutional, limits that FECA had set on certain independent expenditures by political action committees, it reiterated Buckley's observation that "the absence of prearrangement and coordination" does not eliminate, but it does help to "alleviate," any "danger" that a candidate will understand the expenditure as an effort to obtain a "quid pro quo." See NCPAC, 470 U. S., at 498. The same is true of independent party expenditures.

We recognize that FECA permits individuals to contribute more money ($20,000) to a party than to a candidate ($1,000) or to other political committees ($5,000). 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a). We also recognize that FECA permits unregulated "soft money" contributions to a party for certain activities, such as electing candidates for state office, see §431(8)(A)(i), or for voter registration and "get out the vote" drives, see §431(8)(B)(xii). But the opportunity for corruption posed by these greater opportunities for contributions is, at best, attenuated. Unregulated "soft money" contributions may not be used to influence a federal campaign, except when used in the limited, party building activities specifically designated in the statute. See §431(8)(B). Any contribution to a party that is earmarked for a particular campaign, is considered a contribution to the candidate and is subject to the contribution limitations. §441a(a)(8). A party may not simply channel unlimited amounts of even undesignated contributions to a candidate, since such direct transfers are also considered contributions and are subject to the contribution limits on a "multicandidate political committee." §441a(a)(2). The greatest danger of corruption, therefore, appears to be from the ability of donors to give sums up to $20,000 to a party which may be used for independent party expenditures for the benefit of a particular candidate. We could understand how Congress, were it to conclude that the potential for evasion of the individual contribution limits was a serious matter, might decide to change the statute's limitations on contributions to political parties. Cf. California Medical Assn., 453 U. S., at 197-199 (plurality opinion) (danger of evasion of limits on contribution to candidates justified prophylactic limitation on contributions to PAC's). But we do not believe that the risk of corruption present here could justify the "markedly greater burden on basic freedoms caused by" the statute's limitations on expenditures. Buckley, supra, at 44. See also 424 U. S., at 46-47, 51; NCPAC, supra, at 498. Contributors seeking to avoid the effect of the $1,000 contribution limit indirectly by donations to the national party could spend that same amount of money (or more) themselves more directly by making their own independent expenditures promoting the candidate. See Buckley, supra, at 44-48 (risk of corruption by individuals' independent expenditures is insufficient to justify limits on such spending). If anything, an independent expenditure made possible by a $20,000 donation, but controlled and directed by a party rather than the donor, would seem less likely to corrupt than the same (or a much larger) independent expenditure made directly by that donor. In any case, the constitutionally significant fact, present equally in both instances, is the lack of coordination between the candidate and the source of the expenditure. See Buckley, supra, at 45-46; NCPAC, supra, at 498. This fact prevents us from assuming, absent convincing evidence to the contrary, that a limitation on political parties' independent expenditures is necessary to combat a substantial danger of corruption of the electoral system.

The Government does not point to record evidence or legislative findings suggesting any special corruption problem in respect to independent party expenditures. See Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. v. FCC, 512 U. S. __, __ (1994) (slip. op., at 40-41) ("When the Government defends a regulation on speech as a means to . . . prevent anticipated harms, it must do more than simply posit the existence of the disease sought to be cured") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); NCPAC, supra, at 498. To the contrary, this Court's opinions suggest that Congress wrote the Party Expenditure Provision not so much because of a special concern about the potentially "corrupting" effect of party expenditures, but rather for the constitutionally insufficient purpose of reducing what it saw as wasteful and excessive campaign spending. See Buckley, supra, at 57. In fact, rather than indicating a special fear of the corruptive influence of political parties, the legislative history demonstrates Congress' general desire to enhance what was seen as an important and legitimate role for political parties in American elections. See Federal Election Comm'n v. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Comm., 454 U. S., at 41 (Party Expenditure Provision was intended to "assure that political parties will continue to have an important role in federal elections"); S. Rep. No. 93-689, p. 7 (1974) ("[A] vigorous party system is vital to American politics . . . . [P]ooling resources from many small contributors is a legitimate function and an integral part of party politics"); id., at 7-8, 15.

We therefore believe that this Court's prior case law controls the outcome here. We do not see how a Constitution that grants to individuals, candidates, and ordinary political committees the right to make unlimited independent expenditures could deny the same right to political parties. Having concluded this, we need not consider the Party's further claim that the statute's "in connection with" language, and the FEC's interpretation of that language, are unconstitutionally vague. Cf. Buckley, supra, at 40-44.

The Government does not deny the force of the precedent we have discussed. Rather, it argued below, and the lower courts accepted, that the expenditure in this case should be treated under those precedents, not as an "independent expenditure," but rather as a "coordinated expenditure," which those cases have treated as "contributions," and which those cases have held Congress may constitutionally regulate. See, e.g., Buckley, supra, at 23-38.

While the District Court found that the expenditure in this case was "coordinated," 839 F. Supp., at 1453, it did not do so based on any factual finding that the Party had consulted with any candidate in the making or planing of the advertising campaign in question. Instead, the District Court accepted the Government's argument that all party expenditures should be treated as if they had been coordinated as a matter of law, "[b]ased on Supreme Court precedent and the Commission's interpretation of the statute," ibid. The Court of Appeals agreed with this legal conclusion. 59 F. 3d, at 1024. Thus, the lower courts' "finding" of coordination does not conflict with our conclusion, infra, at 6-8, that the summary judgment record shows no actual coordination as a matter of fact. The question, instead, is whether the Court of Appeals erred as a legal matter in accepting the Government's conclusive presumption that all party expenditures are "coordinated." We believe it did.

In support of its argument, the Government points to a set of legal materials, based on FEC interpretations, that seem to say or imply that all party expenditures are "coordinated." These include: (1) an FEC regulation that forbids political parties to make any "independent expenditures . . . in connection with" a "general election campaign," 11 CFR § 110.7(b)(4) (1995); (2) Commission Advisory Opinions that use the word "coordinated" to describe the Party Expenditure Provisions' limitations, see, e.g., FEC Advisory Op. 1984-15, 1 CCH Fed. Election Camp. Fin. Guide ¶5766, p. 11,069 (May 31, 1984) (AO 1984-15); FEC Advisory Op. 1988-22, 2 CCH Fed. Election Camp. Fin. Guide ¶5932, p. 11,471 n. 4 (July 5, 1988) (AO 1988-22); (3) one Commission Advisory Opinion that says explicitly in a footnote that "coordination with candidates is presumed and `independence' precluded," ibid.; and (4) a statement by this Court that "[p]arty committees are considered incapable of making `independent' expenditures, " FEC v. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Comm., supra, at 28-29, n. 1.

The Government argues, on the basis of these materials, that the FEC has made an "empirical judgment that party officials will as a matter of course consult with the party's candidates before funding communications intended to influence the outcome of a federal election." Brief for Respondent 27. The FEC materials, however, do not make this empirical judgment. For the most part those materials use the word "coordinated" as a description that does not necessarily deny the possibility that a party could also make independent expenditures. See, e.g., AO 1984-15 ¶5766, p. 11,069. We concede that one Advisory Opinion says, in a footnote, that "coordination with candidates is presumed." AO 1988-22 ¶5932, p. 11,471 n. 4. But this statement, like the others, appears without any internal or external evidence that the FEC means it to embody an empirical judgment (say, that parties, in fact, hardly ever spend money independently) or to represent the outcome of an empirical investigation. Indeed, the statute does not require any such investigation, for it applies both to coordinated and to independent expenditures alike. See §441a(d)(3) (a "political party . . . may not make any expenditure" in excess of the limits) (emphasis added). In any event, language in other FEC Advisory Opinions suggests the opposite, namely that sometimes, in fact, parties do make independent expenditures. See, e.g., AO 1984-15, ¶5766, p. 11,069 ("Although consultation or coordination with the candidate is permissible, it is not required"). In these circumstances, we cannot take the cited materials as an empirical, or experience based, determination that, as an factual matter, all party expenditures are coordinated with a candidate. That being so, we need not hold, on the basis of these materials, that the expenditures here were "coordinated." The Government does not advance any other legal reason that would require us to accept the Commission's characterization. The Commission has not claimed, for example, that, administratively speaking, it is more difficult to separate a political party's "independent," from its "coordinated," expenditures than, say, those of a PAC. Cf. 11 CFR § 109.1 (1995) (distinguishing between independent and coordinated expenditures by other political groups). Nor can the Commission draw significant legal support from the footnote in Democratic Senatorial Campaign Comm., 454 U. S., at 28-29, n. 1, given that this statement was dicta that purported to describe the regulatory regime as the FEC had described it in a brief.

Nor does the fact that the Party Expenditure Provision fails to distinguish between coordinated and independent expenditures indicate a congressional judgment that such a distinction is impossible or untenable in the context of political party spending. Instead, the use of the unmodified term "expenditure" is explained by Congress' desire to limit all party expenditures when it passed the 1974 amendments, just as it had limited all expenditures by individuals, corporations, and other political groups. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 608(e), 610 (1970 ed., Supp. IV); Buckley, 424 U. S., at 39.

Finally, we recognize that the FEC may have characterized the expenditures as "coordinated" in light of this Court's constitutional decisions prohibiting regulation of most independent expenditures. But, if so, the characterization cannot help the Government prove its case. An agency's simply calling an independent expenditure a "coordinated expenditure" cannot (for constitutional purposes) make it one. See, e.g., NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415, 429 (1963) (the government "cannot foreclose the exercise of constitutional rights by mere labels"); Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229, 235-238 (1963) (State may not avoid First Amendment's strictures by applying the label "breach of the peace" to peaceful demonstrations).

The Government also argues that the Colorado Party has conceded that the expenditures are "coordinated." But there is no such concession in respect to the underlying facts. To the contrary, the Party's "Questions Presented" in its petition for certiorari describes the expenditure as one "the party has not coordinated with its candidate." See Pet. for Cert. i. In the lower courts the Party did accept the FEC's terminology, but it did so in the context of legal arguments that did not focus upon the constitutional distinction that we now consider. See Reply Brief for Petitioners 9-10, n. 8 (denying that the FEC's labels can control constitutional analysis). The Government has not referred us to any place where the Party conceded away or abandoned its legal claim that Congress may not limit the uncoordinated expenditure at issue here. And, in any event, we are not bound to decide a matter of constitutional law based on a concession by the particular party before the Court as to the proper legal characterization of the facts. Cf. United States Nat. Bank of Ore. v. Independent Ins. Agents of America, Inc., 508 U.S. 439, 447 (1993); Massachusetts v. United States, 333 U.S. 611, 623-628 (1948); Young v. United States, 315 U.S. 257, 259 (1942) (recognizing that "our judgments are precedents" and that the proper understanding of matters of law "cannot be left merely to the stipulation of parties").

Finally, the Government and supporting amici argue that the expenditure is "coordinated" because a party and its candidate are identical, i.e., the party, in a sense, "is" its candidates. We cannot assume, however, that this is so. See, e.g., W. Keefe, Parties, Politics, and Public Policy in America 59-74 (5th ed. 1988) (describing parties as "coalitions" of differing interests). Congress chose to treat candidates and their parties quite differently under the Act, for example, by regulating contributions from one to the other. See §441a(a)(2)(B). See also 11 CFR §§ 110.2 110.3(b) (1995). And we are not certain whether a metaphysical identity would help the Government, for in that case one might argue that the absolute identity of views and interests eliminates any potential for corruption, as would seem to be the case in the relationship between candidates and their campaign committees. Cf. Buckley, 424 U. S., at 54-59 (Congress may not limit expenditures by candidate/campaign committee); First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 790 (1978) (where there is no risk of "corruption" of a candidate, the Government may not limit even contributions).

The Colorado Party and supporting amici have argued a broader question than we have decided, for they have claimed that, in the special case of political parties, the First Amendment forbids congressional efforts to limit coordinated expenditures as well as independent expenditures. Because the expenditure before us is an independent expenditure we have not reached this broader question in deciding the Party's "as applied" challenge.

We recognize that the Party filed a counterclaim in which it sought to raise a facial challenge to the Party Expenditure Provision as a whole. But that counterclaim did not focus specifically upon coordinated expenditures. See App. 68-69. Nor did its summary judgment affidavits specifically allege that the Party intended to make coordinated expenditures exceeding the statute's limits. See App. 159, ¶4. While this lack of focus does not deprive this Court of jurisdiction to consider a facial challenge to the Party Expenditure Provision as overbroad or as unconstitutional in all applications, it does provide a prudential reason for this Court not to decide the broader question, especially since it may not be necessary to resolve the entire current dispute. If, in fact, the Party wants to make only independent expenditures like those before us, its counterclaim is mooted by our resolution of its "as applied" challenge. Cf. Renne v. Geary, 501 U.S. 312, 323-324 (1991) (facial challenge should generally not be entertained when an "as applied" challenge could resolve the case); Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, Inc., 472 U.S. 491, 503-504 (1985).

More importantly, the opinions of the lower courts, and the parties' briefs in this case, did not squarely isolate, and address, party expenditures that in fact are coordinated, nor did they examine, in that context, relevant similarities or differences with similar expenditures made by individuals or other political groups. Indeed, to our knowledge, this is the first case in the 20-year history of the Party Expenditure Provision to suggest that in fact coordinated expenditures by political parties are protected from congressional regulation by the First Amendment, even though this Court's prior cases have permitted regulation of similarly coordinated expenditures by individuals and other political groups. See Buckley, supra, at 46-47. This issue is complex. As Justice Kennedy points out, post, at 4-5, party coordinated expenditures do share some of the constitutionally relevant features of independent expenditures. But many such expenditures are also virtually indistinguishable from simple contributions (compare, for example, a donation of money with direct payment of a candidate's media bills, see Buckley, supra, at 46). Moreover, political parties also share relevant features with many PAC's, both having an interest in, and devoting resources to, the goal of electing candidates who will "work to further" a particular "political agenda," which activity would benefit from coordination with those candidates. Post, at 4. See, e.g., NCPAC, 470 U. S., at 490 (describing the purpose and activities of the National Conservative PAC); id., at 492 (coordinated expenditures by PAC's are subject to FECA contribution limitations). Thus, a holding on in fact coordinated party expenditures necessarily implicates a broader range of issues than may first appear, including the constitutionality of party contribution limits.

But the focus of this litigation, and the lower court opinions, has not been on such issues, but rather on whether the Government may conclusively deem independent party expenditures to be coordinated. This lack of focus may reflect, in part, the litigation strategy of the parties. The Government has denied that any distinction can be made between a party's independent and its coordinated expenditures. The Colorado Party, for its part, did not challenge a different provision of the statute--a provision that imposes a $5,000 limit on any contribution by a "multicandidate political committee" (including a coordinated expenditure) and which would apply to party coordinated expenditures if the entire Party Expenditure Provision were struck from the statute as unconstitutional. See §§441a(a)(2), (4), (7)(B)(i). Rather than challenging the constitutionality of this provision as well, thereby making clear that it was challenging Congress' authority to regulate in fact coordinated party expenditures, the Party has made an obscure severability argument that would leave party coordinated expenditures exempt from that provision. See Reply Brief for Petitioners 11, n. 9. While these strategies do not deprive the parties of a right to adjudicate the counterclaim, they do provide a reason for this Court to defer consideration of the broader issues until the lower courts have reconsidered the question in light of our current opinion.

Finally, we note that neither the parties nor the lower courts have considered whether or not Congress would have wanted the Party Expenditure Provisions limitations to stand were they to apply only to coordinated, and not to independent, expenditures. See Buckley, 424 U. S., at 108; NCPAC, supra, at 498. This non constitutional ground for exempting party coordinated expenditures from FECA limitations should be briefed and considered before addressing the constitutionality of such regulation. See United States v. Locke, 471 U.S. 84, 92, and n. 9 (1985).

Justice Thomas disagrees and would reach the broader constitutional question notwithstanding the above prudential considerations. In fact, he would reach a great number of issues neither addressed below, nor presented by the facts of this case, nor raised by the parties, for he believes it appropriate here to overrule sua sponte this Court's entire campaign finance jurisprudence, developed in numerous cases over the last 20 years. See post, at 5-15. Doing so seems inconsistent with this Court's view that it is ordinarily "inappropriate for us to reexamine" prior precedent "without the benefit of the parties' briefing," since the "principles that animate our policy of stare decisis caution against overruling a longstanding precedent on a theory not argued by the parties." United States v. International Business Machines Corp., 517 U. S. --, -- (1996) (slip. op., at 12, 13). In our view, given the important competing interests involved in campaign finance issues, we should proceed cautiously, consistent with this precedent, and remand for further proceedings.

For these reasons, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

It is so ordered.