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
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