By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Senator James Buckley, a premier conservative voice in Washington in the 1970s who successfully challenged limits on spending by political candidates while championing student privacy rights, died on Friday in Washington at age 100, the Washington Post reported.
His son Peter Buckley confirmed the death but did not provide a specific cause, the newspaper said.
Buckley served in a high office in all three branches of the U.S. government and was a hero to many in the conservative movement, but his career was overshadowed by his brother William F. Buckley Jr., the renowned conservative commentator.
He served a single term in the Senate from New York from 1971 to 1977 under the banner of the Conservative Party – winning a three-way race that ousted an incumbent Republican.
In 1975, Buckley led a court challenge to a campaign finance reform law imposing limits on the amount of money political candidates could spent on campaigns and the amount individuals could donate to candidates. The law was passed by Congress after the Watergate corruption scandal that in 1974 led Richard Nixon to become the first U.S. president to resign.
Buckley asserted that the law’s limits on campaign spending violated the right to free speech outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In its landmark 1976 ruling in the case known as Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limits on expenditures by candidates and their committees but upheld limits on contributions to candidates.
Critics of the ruling argue that it augmented the corrosive effect of money in U.S. politics and helped lead to the extravagantly expensive nature of American political campaigns.
Buckley left his mark on the issue of student privacy. Congress in 1974 passed his legislation, commonly called the Buckley Amendment, that limits access to student records without parental consent in colleges, high schools and elementary schools. The measure also guarantees that parents can see their child’s educational records.
Buckley’s first involvement in politics came in 1965 when he managed his brother’s unsuccessful campaign for New York City mayor. Buckley first ran for office in 1968 as the Conservative Party nominee, losing a New York U.S. Senate race to Jacob Javits, the Republican incumbent.
‘VERY STRANGE THINGS’
He declared after that loss that he would not run again but changed his mind because he was disturbed by events unfolding in America during the turbulent Vietnam War era.
“In the next couple of years, in 1969 and 1970, some very strange things started happening in the United States. I refer to the campus violence, the anti-war protests, the bombings and flag-burnings, the rejection of traditional standards that dominated the headlines during that period,” Buckley said in a 1995 interview.
He ran for the Senate in 1970, winning with just 39% of the vote in a three-way race against incumbent Republican Senator Charles Goodell and Democrat Richard Ottinger. As a senator, Buckley closely aligned himself with the Republicans.
Buckley lost his re-election bid in New York in 1976 to Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In 1980 he lost a run for the Senate from Connecticut to Democrat Christopher Dodd.
Buckley opposed abortion, gun control and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women equal rights. He warned about excessive government interference and federal spending.
In 1976, Buckley briefly mulled becoming a candidate to be the Republican presidential nominee in a race in which former California governor Ronald Reagan was challenging incumbent President Gerald Ford for the nomination.
Jesse Helms, one of the most conservative Republican senators, urged Buckley to enter the race after Reagan dismayed fellow conservatives by designating moderate Senator Richard Schweiker as his running mate if he won the nomination. Ford won the nomination but lost the election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Buckley served as a senior official in the U.S. State Department after Reagan was elected president in 1980. He was the chief defender of the Reagan administration’s policy of making weapons more available for sale to U.S. allies overseas.
He then served Reagan in Munich from 1982 to 1985 as the head of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty – two Cold War era U.S. agencies that broadcast news and information to the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries.
In 1985, Reagan named Buckley to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the most influential U.S. court apart from the Supreme Court. He heard cases until 2000.
He had six children with his wife, Ann Frances Cooley.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Trott)
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