How a Supreme Court Case Made an Alabama Businessman Famous

Eyes all over Washington are on the <em>McCutcheon</em> campaign finance case — and McCutcheon himself

Shaun McCutcheon (C) plaintiff in a case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, leaves the Supreme Court on October 8, 2013 in Washington, DC. The court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Committee, a first amendment case that will determine how much money an individual can contribute directly to political campaigns. 
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin
March 16, 2014, 7:39 a.m.

Shaun Mc­Cutcheon, the plaintiff in a cru­cial cam­paign fin­ance case pending be­fore the Su­preme Court, can hardly wait for the justices to rule. Whatever they de­cide, he’s ready, with his e-book, Out­sider In­side: The Su­preme Court, poised to pub­lish on his web­site with­in two days of the de­cision.

That Mc­Cutcheon — a busi­ness­man, en­gin­eer, polit­ic­al donor, and First Amend­ment ad­voc­ate from Alabama — is poised to take ad­vant­age of the Court’s rul­ing hints at the high stakes for polit­ic­al parties, can­did­ates, and com­mit­tees.

It also sug­gests just what a star he’s be­come.

Since the Court heard or­al ar­gu­ments in Oc­to­ber, Mc­Cutcheon is ex­per­i­en­cing a kind of polit­ic­al fame, pos­ing for pho­tos with fans at CPAC, pen­ning ed­it­or­i­als in Belt­way pub­lic­a­tions, get­ting to know Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Re­ince Priebus, and mix­ing with re­port­ers.

“I’ll come home, and there will be a mes­sage on my an­swer­ing ma­chine from Nina Toten­berg — like she’s my best friend,” he said. “Even in Alabama I’ve been no­ticed.”

The fame stems from the fact that Mc­Cutcheon is the plaintiff in Mc­Cutcheon v. Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, de­scribed by some as po­ten­tially a land­mark suit that could bookend the cam­paign fin­ance de­reg­u­la­tion that the Court began in the Cit­izens United case.

At the heart of the Mc­Cutcheon case is wheth­er Con­gress can con­sti­tu­tion­ally lim­it the total amount in­di­vidu­als may give to can­did­ates, polit­ic­al com­mit­tees, and parties com­bined. This is known as the ag­greg­ate lim­it.

Un­der the law, in­di­vidu­als can cur­rently give $48,600 to can­did­ates and $74,600 to PACs and parties, with an over­all cap of $123,200 per cycle. What Mc­Cutcheon and the Re­pub­lic­an Party are seek­ing to do is lift that over­all cap, ar­guing that the lim­it vi­ol­ates the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“Free speech is just try­ing to spread ideas, giv­ing people more in­form­a­tion, cre­at­ing com­pet­i­tion, and com­pet­i­tion in elec­tions is only gonna be a good thing,” Mc­Cutcheon said.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Demo­crats ob­ject to the GOP ar­gu­ment, say­ing that large donors can in­flu­ence cam­paigns, and this in­flu­ence can lead to cor­rup­tion or the ap­pear­ance of cor­rup­tion.

“If Mr. Mc­Cutcheon pre­vails it will of course fur­ther warp the in­cent­ive struc­ture for elec­ted of­fi­cials who are now forced to so­li­cit these con­tri­bu­tions,” said Josh Or­ton, polit­ic­al dir­ect­or of Pro­gress­ives United, a fed­er­al PAC star­ted by former Sen. Russ Fein­gold of Wis­con­sin.

In prac­tic­al terms, here’s what it would mean if the Court ruled in Mc­Cutcheon’s fa­vor: Donors would go from be­ing able to give $2,600 each to 18 can­did­ates, which is what can be done un­der the cur­rent cap, to giv­ing $2,600 each to an un­lim­ited num­ber of can­did­ates.

That’s not the only po­ten­tial re­per­cus­sion. Na­tion­al parties may also be­ne­fit by set­ting up joint fun­draisers with state parties to gath­er more money from donors. “To me the biggest im­pact would be the re­turn of the ‘big ask’ where lead­er­ship mem­bers and party lead­ers so­li­cit sev­en-fig­ure con­tri­bu­tions to these joint ef­forts,” said Bob Bier­sack, a former FEC of­fi­cial now at the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics, in an email. “Feels like the ‘90s soft money days to me.”

Demo­crats see cor­rup­tion there. Mc­Cutcheon sees the ex­er­cise of free speech. “I think the First Amend­ment cer­tainly out­weighs the gov­ern­ment telling us how we are go­ing to elect the gov­ern­ment,” he said.

If he does suc­ceed with his case, it’s not just the book that Mc­Cutcheon has ready to go. He says he has already maxed out to the RNC and ex­pects to give more to the oth­er polit­ic­al com­mit­tees, in­clud­ing the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee and the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. Mc­Cutcheon said he hasn’t settled on any can­did­ates in par­tic­u­lar he plans to fund.

And it’s not just Mc­Cutcheon await­ing the Court’s de­cision, which ob­serv­ers ad­mit is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict. The parties have an in­terest too.

“I’m sure they’re wait­ing with a list of donors that are maxed out,” said Ken Gross, a polit­ic­al law at­tor­ney and part­ner at Skad­den. “I’m sure they’re poised to hit them up. That will be the most im­me­di­ate palp­able ef­fect.”

That might be an un­der­state­ment. The case has a grav­it­a­tion­al force of its own. It has at­trac­ted amicus briefs from Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell; the House and Sen­ate GOP cam­paign arms; and Demo­crat­ic House mem­bers. The rank­ing mem­bers of the House Budget Com­mit­tee and Home­land Se­cur­ity Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee — Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land and Dav­id Price of North Car­o­lina, re­spect­ively — also sub­mit­ted a joint brief, sep­ar­ately from the their Demo­crat­ic col­leagues.

Mc­Cutcheon de­scribes all the at­ten­tion in pos­it­ive terms and said he wants to pur­sue free speech more, pos­sibly work­ing with the Coolidge-Re­agan Found­a­tion. Asked wheth­er he’ll seek a suit to end in­di­vidu­al lim­its, he laughed.

“I think the chances an in­di­vidu­al could do two Su­preme Court cases in a life­time “¦ ” he said, but shif­ted gears mid-sen­tence. “I need some time off.”

What We're Following See More »
THEM’S FIGHTIN’ WORDS
Earnest: Overriding Obama’s Veto Was “Embarrassing”
34 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Hyperbole alert! Following the Senate's decision to override President Obama's veto of a bill that would allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court, the White House has responded forcefully, specifically White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "I would venture to say that this is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done, possibly, since 1983," Earnest said on Air Force One. The House is likely to follow suit in overriding Obama's veto when it takes up the vote.

Source:
FIRST TIME IN OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY
Senate Overrides Obama’s Veto
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
TRIBUTES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Former Israeli President & PM Shimon Peres Dies at 93
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Two weeks after a massive stroke, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president and prime minister of Israel Shimon Peres passed away late Tuesday night. In a political, military, and diplomatic career that lasted nearly 70 years, Peres was influential both in building up the formidable strength of the Israeli military and in seeking to negotiate lasting peace with Israel's many neighboring Arab countries. Within hours of the announcement of his death, both condolences and tributes began pouring in, including from former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair.

AFRAID HE’S TAKING SUPPORT FROM CLINTON
Democrats Taking Aim at Gary Johnson
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Democrats panicked by third-party candidates drawing support away from Hillary Clinton are ramping up their attacks against Gary Johnson and warning that a vote for a third party is a vote for Donald Trump. Liberal groups are passing around embarrassing videos of Johnson and running ads against him warning about his positions on issues like climate change that are important to young voters and independents."

Source:
RUSSIA DENIES
Dutch Investigators: MH17 Was Downed by Russian Launcher
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Russo-Western relations are getting thornier all the time. "Dutch-led criminal investigators said Wednesday they have solid evidence that a Malaysian jet was shot down by a Buk missile moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia. Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Central Crime Investigation department of the Dutch National Police, said communications intercepts showed that pro-Moscow rebels had called for deployment of the mobile surface-to-air weapon, and reported its arrival in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine." Russia, of course, is denying culpability.

Source:
×