The Supreme Court Takes Another Step to Advance Money in Politics

A Supreme Court ruling Wednesday in the biggest campaign finance case since Citizens United has opened the door even further for unlimited money in politics.

David Barrows, of Washington, DC, waves a flag with corporate logos and fake money during a rally against money in politics outside the Supreme Court October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
Add to Briefcase
Elahe Izadi
April 2, 2014, 7:35 a.m.

A Su­preme Court rul­ing Wed­nes­day in the biggest cam­paign fin­ance case since Cit­izens United has opened the door even wider for un­lim­ited money in polit­ics.

The Court, which ruled 5-4 in Mc­Cutcheon v. FEC, ef­fect­ively elim­in­ated over­all lim­its on the amount in­di­vidu­als can donate to can­did­ates. GOP donor and Alabama busi­ness­man Shaun Mc­Cutcheon joined with the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee to chal­lenge the lim­its as a vi­ol­a­tion of First Amend­ment rights.

Ad­voc­ates for cam­paign fin­ance re­form de­cried the rul­ing. “That today’s de­cision uses the First Amend­ment as a jus­ti­fic­a­tion makes a mock­ery of the Con­sti­tu­tion,” J. Ger­ald Hebert, Cam­paign Leg­al Cen­ter Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or, said in a state­ment.

But to oth­ers, in­clud­ing ma­jor out­side groups, the de­cision was an­oth­er step for­ward in ad­van­cing polit­ic­al speech. “This is a great day for the First Amend­ment and a great day for polit­ic­al speech,” Club for Growth Pres­id­ent Chris Chocola said in a state­ment.

The rul­ing it­self doesn’t open the floodgates — at is­sue wasn’t the $2,600 lim­it on what a per­son can give to an in­di­vidu­al fed­er­al can­did­ate — but it did chal­lenge the $123,000 cap on an in­di­vidu­al’s over­all con­tri­bu­tions to fed­er­al can­did­ates, parties, and com­mit­tees.

It es­sen­tially picks up where Cit­izens United left off in 2010, a rul­ing that al­lowed in­di­vidu­als and en­tit­ies to fun­nel un­lim­ited amounts of cash through out­side or­gan­iz­a­tions, spawn­ing the now ubi­quit­ous su­per PAC.

In his ma­jor­ity opin­ion, Chief Justice John Roberts sug­ges­ted that the Court’s Cit­izens United de­cision ac­tu­ally helped force its hand in this case:

The ex­ist­ing ag­greg­ate lim­its may in fact en­cour­age the move­ment of money away from en­tit­ies sub­ject to dis­clos­ure. Be­cause in­di­vidu­als’ dir­ect con­tri­bu­tions are lim­ited, would-be donors may turn to oth­er av­en­ues for polit­ic­al speech. See Cit­izens United, supra, at 364. In­di­vidu­als can, for ex­ample, con­trib­ute un­lim­ited amounts to 501(c) or­gan­iz­a­tions, which are not re­quired to pub­licly dis­close their donors. See 26 U. S. C. §6104(d)(3). Such or­gan­iz­a­tions spent some $300 mil­lion on in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ures in the 2012 elec­tion cycle.

In his dis­sent, Justice Steph­en Brey­er said the de­cision “evis­cer­ates our Na­tion’s cam­paign fin­ance laws, leav­ing a rem­nant in­cap­able of deal­ing with the grave prob­lems of demo­crat­ic le­git­im­acy that those laws were in­ten­ded to re­solve.”

The rul­ing couldn’t have come at a bet­ter time for politi­cians run­ning in the 2014 midterms: Wealthy donors will no longer be bound in the num­ber of politi­cians and com­mit­tees they can back.

To get a sense of how many donors may take ad­vant­age of the lim­it­less ag­greg­ate con­tri­bu­tions, you can ex­am­ine how many gave the max­im­um amount in the 2012 cycle. Back then, 653 in­di­vidu­als donated the max­im­um amount to the Demo­crat­ic Party, while 1,062 gave the max­im­um amount to the GOP. And 591 donors gave the max­im­um amount to fed­er­al can­did­ates, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

Joint fun­drais­ing com­mit­tees, or JFCs, could see a ma­jor shift, too. In 2012, 536 donors gave the max­im­um amount to the Obama Vic­tory Fund, while 721 gave the max­im­um amount to the Rom­ney Vic­tory Fund.

Already, law­makers on the Hill are look­ing for ways to in­crease trans­par­ency, giv­en the rul­ing. In­de­pend­ent Sen. An­gus King of Maine has in­tro­duced a bill re­quir­ing that all dona­tions of $1,000 or more be re­por­ted with­in 48 hours. But it’s un­clear how much of a chance any fur­ther re­forms to cam­paign fin­ance have in the cur­rent polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment.

House Speak­er John Boehner lauded the rul­ing, say­ing it means “free­dom of speech is be­ing up­held.”

“Just re­mem­ber, all this goes back to this bizarre Mc­Cain-Fein­gold bill that was passed that has dis­tor­ted the polit­ic­al pro­cess in ways that no one who voted for it ever be­lieved it,” Boehner said Tues­day. “Some of us un­der­stood what was go­ing to hap­pen. It’s push­ing all this money out­side the party struc­ture in­to all these oth­er vari­ous forms.”

But not every­one’s so on board. “There will be scan­dal,” Re­pub­lic­an Sen. John Mc­Cain said after the de­cision. “There’s too much money wash­ing around.”

Matt Berman contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
EMERGING BUDGET FRAMEWORK?
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Source:
WHITE HOUSE BLOCKING DOC REQUEST
Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
14 hours ago
BREAKING

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

Source:
SENATE JUDICIARY HEARING
Sally Yates to Testify on May 8
19 hours ago
THE LATEST
MESSAGE TO PUTIN
U.S. To Conduct Exercises In Estonia
19 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. deployed "F-35 joint strike fighters" to Estonia on Tuesday. The "jets will stay in Estonia for several weeks and will be a part of training flights with U.S. and other NATO air forces." The move comes at a time of high tension between the U.S. and Estonia's neighbor, Russia. The two nations have been at odds over a number of issues recently, most of all being Vladimir Putin's support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in light of Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people in the midst of a civil war.

Source:
NOT WORRIED ABOUT BUDGET NEUTRALITY
Trump Wants to Slash Corporate Rate to 15%
1 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login