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 »
FUNDING RUNS OUT ON FRIDAY
Federal Agencies Prepare for Govt Shutdown
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

As Congress continues to bicker on riders to a continuing resolution, federal agencies have started working with the Office of Management and Budget to prepare for a government shutdown, which will occur if no continuing resolution is passed by 11:59 p.m. on Friday night. The OMB held a call with agencies on Sept. 23, one that is required one week before a possible shutdown. The government last shut down for 16 days in 2013, and multiple shutdowns have been narrowly avoided since then. It is expected that Congress will reach a deal before the clock strikes midnight, but until it does, preparations will continue.

Source:
OBAMA’S ENVIRONMENTAL LEGACY IN THE BALANCE
Obama’s Clean Power Plan Faces Courts
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

President Obama's Clean Power Plan, a large pillar of his efforts to leave a lasting environmental legacy, "goes before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today." The plan "imposes the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants." A number of consolidated cases finds 27 states challenging this plan, which was blocked by the Supreme Court in February pending decisions from lower courts. The states will argue that the government doesn't have the right to impose restrictions requiring them to shutter plans and restructure full industries.

Source:
UNCLEAR IF THIS WILL AFFECT POLLS
Instant Reaction: Clinton Won Debate
1 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

There seems to be a clear consensus forming about Monday's debate: Hillary Clinton was the winner. One focus group of undecided Pennsylvania voters, conducted by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, found 16 favored Clinton while five picked Donald Trump. In a Florida focus group organized by CNN, 18 of 20 undecided voters saw Clinton as the winner.

DIDN’T BECAUSE CHELSEA WAS IN THE ROOM
Trump Wanted to Bring Up Bill Clinton
2 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

As both candidates walked off the stage, Donald Trump lauded himself for being restrained and for not bringing up Bill Clinton. "I didn’t want to say—her husband was in the room along with her daughter, who I think is a very nice young lady—and I didn’t want to say what I was going to say about what’s been going on in their life," Trump said. Trump claims he stopped himself from hitting Bill Clinton because daughter Chelsea was in the room.

Source:
REPEATS CONTROVERSIAL CLAIM
Trump: Clinton “Doesn’t Have The Stamina” to be President
13 hours ago
DEBATE UPDATE

At the end of the debate, moderator Lester Holt asked Donald Trump if he stands by his statement that Hillary Clinton didn't have the look of a president. Trump responded by saying Holt misquoted him, instead saying that Clinton "doesn't have the stamina." Clinton responded by saying that when Trump visits 112 countries as secretary of state, he can talk to her about stamina.

×