SPOTLIGHT

The Next Campaign Finance Fight

People file out of the Supreme Court after the morning session hearing arguments on the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday, march 28, 2012, the last day of hearings. 
National Journal
Alex Roarty
See more stories about...
Alex Roarty
April 3, 2014, 7:40 a.m.

In the short run, yes­ter­day’s much-hyped Su­preme Court rul­ing won’t mean much. Elim­in­at­ing over­all con­tri­bu­tion lim­its will give the party com­mit­tees and can­did­ates a little ex­tra cash in their pock­et, but the cam­paign fin­ance land­scape is largely the same as it was when Wed­nes­day began. It’s what might come next that would fun­da­ment­ally upend the cam­paign fin­an­cing sys­tem. The at­tor­neys and ex­perts study­ing yes­ter­day’s Mc­Cutcheon v. FEC rul­ing sug­gest it could make vul­ner­able one of the bed­rock rules of the cam­paign fin­ance sys­tem: Caps on in­di­vidu­al con­tri­bu­tions to parties and can­did­ates.

— Mc­Cu­theon is sig­ni­fic­ant, at­tor­neys say, be­cause it’s one of the first cases to fo­cus on con­tri­bu­tions, not ex­pendit­ures (the fo­cus of Cit­izens United and oth­er cases). As one GOP fin­ance at­tor­ney put it, cam­paign fin­ance re­lies on three ele­ments: rules gov­ern­ing ex­pendit­ures, con­tri­bu­tions, and dis­clos­ure. The courts have ripped apart most ex­pendit­ure reg­u­la­tions; the fear among re­form ad­voc­ates is now they’ve turned their at­ten­tion to con­tri­bu­tions.

— Those same ad­voc­ates ar­gued that the court’s ma­jor­ity opin­ion, writ­ten by Chief Justice John Roberts, re­af­firmed the leg­al­ity of con­tri­bu­tion lim­its. But they’re also real­ist­ic: This isn’t a court that’s been kind to their way of think­ing about cam­paign fin­ance reg­u­la­tions. None would be ser­i­ously sur­prised if in­di­vidu­al con­tri­bu­tion lim­its came un­der scru­tiny next.

— Here’s a pos­sible out­come to keep an eye on, sug­ges­ted by GOP cam­paign fin­ance at­tor­ney Wil­li­am Mc­Gin­ley: The Su­preme Court even­tu­ally rules that con­tri­bu­tion lim­its are con­sti­tu­tion­al but stip­u­lates that the cur­rent caps are far too low. Ex­pect dis­cus­sion in the com­ing weeks about le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion to raise those lim­its (of course, as usu­al, don’t hold your breath wait­ing for le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion).

The coun­try’s post-Wa­ter­gate cam­paign fin­ance sys­tem has been turned on its head in re­cent years. And the changes might not be done yet.
— Alex Roarty

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×