Supreme Court Ruling on Political Money Won’t Cause Upheaval — Yet

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
Elahe Izadi
Oct. 22, 2013, 6:01 p.m.

A case that’s un­der con­sid­er­a­tion by the Su­preme Court could lay the ground­work for seis­mic-level shifts in the way money in­ter­sects with polit­ics.

Un­der ques­tion is wheth­er the ag­greg­ate cap on the amount an in­di­vidu­al can donate to can­did­ates, parties, and PACs is con­sti­tu­tion­al. Alabama busi­ness­man Shaun Mc­Cutcheon and the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee brought the suit, in Mc­Cutcheon v. Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, which was ar­gued be­fore the Court Oct. 8. Mc­Cutcheon’s po­s­i­tion is that the cap vi­ol­ates his First Amend­ment rights.

The case does not chal­lenge the $2,600 lim­it on an in­di­vidu­al con­tri­bu­tion to a fed­er­al can­did­ate. Rather, what is at play is the total that an in­di­vidu­al can con­trib­ute to fed­er­al can­did­ates, parties, and com­mit­tees. The cur­rent cap of $123,200 in­cludes a $48,600 lim­it on con­tri­bu­tions to all can­did­ates and $74,600 to PACs and parties. The ag­greg­ate cap is in­dexed for in­fla­tion in odd-num­ber years.

One way to see how many donors could take ad­vant­age of high­er or no ag­greg­ate caps is by ex­amin­ing how many gave the max­im­um amount in the 2012 cycle. The Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics found that 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.

Des­pite the fact that pro-Rom­ney-lean­ing su­per PACs out­spent pro-Obama ones in 2012, Demo­crats still won the elec­tion. “Any­time you make it easi­er for more big money to come in, we’re go­ing to be at a dis­ad­vant­age,” a na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant said. “Does that mean the end of the world for us? No.”

Tre­vor Pot­ter, pres­id­ent of the Cam­paign Leg­al Cen­ter, has said “the real threat” is the im­pact the Court’s de­cision could have on joint fun­drais­ing com­mit­tees, or JFCs. In 2012, 536 donors gave the max­im­um amount to the Obama Vic­tory Fund, while 721 gave the max­im­um amount to the Rom­ney Vic­tory Fund.

“Without those lim­its, each polit­ic­al party could so­li­cit con­tri­bu­tions to JFCs of over $1 mil­lion per cycle to fed­er­al and state party com­mit­tees alone, and $3.5 mil­lion if party can­did­ates for the House and Sen­ate are in­cluded in the joint fun­drais­ing ef­fort,” Pot­ter said at a Na­tion­al Press Club event in Oc­to­ber.

Few places al­low un­lim­ited con­tri­bu­tions. Four states per­mit this in their races: Mis­souri, Ore­gon, Utah, and Vir­gin­ia. Mean­while, 39 states lim­it con­tri­bu­tions to can­did­ates from in­di­vidu­als, polit­ic­al parties, PACs, cor­por­a­tions, and uni­ons.

While Cit­izens United opened the door to un­lim­ited money in polit­ics, it forced the funds to be funneled through out­side, in­de­pend­ent groups. It’s against the law for those groups to co­ordin­ate of­fi­cially with cam­paigns. But as it stands now, un­lim­ited money is already in the game in polit­ics. If dona­tions went dir­ectly to parties and can­did­ates, those can­did­ates would have more con­trol over how this money is spent with­in a lar­ger cam­paign strategy.

“The dirty little secret about all this is, money al­ways finds a way to sneak through the cracks,” the Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant said.

As for the be­ne­fit that donors would get from giv­ing dir­ectly to can­did­ates or cam­paigns, some are skep­tic­al that big donors will back off donat­ing to out­side groups so long as in­di­vidu­al con­tri­bu­tions are still lim­ited.

“Right now, I don’t see the people giv­ing these massive checks … do­ing it for lumps of meat of le­gis­la­tion,” said a GOP con­sult­ant. “It’s be­cause you want to be a big dog.”

Paul Sher­man, a seni­or at­tor­ney with the In­sti­tute for Justice, a liber­tari­an firm, pre­dicted the Court will strike down ag­greg­ate lim­its, but ad­ded that the de­cision’s im­pact will de­pend on how ex­actly the justices do that. He ex­pects that if the ag­greg­ate cap gets lif­ted or ab­ol­ished, it would lay the ground­work for a chal­lenge on in­di­vidu­al fed­er­al con­tri­bu­tions. “And that would be a big change.”

“One pos­sible side ef­fect of rul­ing in fa­vor of the plaintiffs is that it could shift money back to­ward polit­ic­al parties and polit­ic­al can­did­ates, and that in turn could im­prove the tone of the polit­ic­al de­bate,” Sher­man noted.

“Party com­mit­tees will like this more, par­tic­u­larly on the Re­pub­lic­an side,” said the Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant. “It ac­tu­ally makes out­side groups like [Amer­ic­an] Cross­roads a tiny bit less rel­ev­ant.”

But some in the fun­drais­ing world point out that, at least on the con­gres­sion­al level, play­ing big in the primar­ies is where it counts — and it’s un­clear how large of an ef­fect the Su­preme Court case would have for those situ­ations, where of­fi­cial party com­mit­tees don’t play as ma­jor a role.

In the end, lift­ing the ag­greg­ate cap may just make it easi­er for party com­mit­tees to raise cash they would have got­ten any­way. Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Re­ince Priebus “may have to do an eighth as many chick­en din­ners,” the GOP con­sult­ant said.

What We're Following See More »
WHITE HOUSE URGING QUICK SENATE ACTION
John King Gets Nod for Education Secretary
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

President Obama has said he’ll nominate John King to fill out the last few months of Obama’s presidency as Secretary of Education. King has been in an acting secretary role since Arne Duncan stepped down in December. The White House is pressuring the Senate to act quickly on the nomination.

Source:
162,000 SIGNATURES SO FAR
Sanders Supporters Begin to Petition Superdelegates
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Bernie Sanders supporters aren’t taking this whole superdelegate thing lying down. Despite a tie a blowout win against Hillary Clinton, Sanders trails her by some 350 delegates in the overall count, thanks mostly to superdelegates pledging to support her. His backers have taken to creating a MoveOn.org petition to pressure the superdelegates to be flexible. It reads: “Commit to honoring the voters—let everyone know that you won’t allow your vote to defeat our votes. Announce that in the event of a close race, you’ll align yourself with regular voters—not party elites.” So far it’s attracted 162,000 signatures.

Source:
REGULAR ORDER
Ryan Pitching the Importance of Passing a Budget Today
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

House Speaker Paul Ryan today is trying to convince his large but divided conference that they need to pass a budget under regular order. “Conservatives are revolting against higher top-line spending levels negotiated last fall by President Obama and Ryan’s predecessor, then-Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). GOP centrists are digging in on the other side, pledging to kill any budget that deviates from the two-year, bipartisan budget deal.” Ryan’s three options are to lower the budget numbers to appease the Freedom Caucus, “deem” a budget and move on to the appropriations process, or “preserve Obama-Boehner levels, but seek savings elsewhere.”

Source:
HEADED TO PRESIDENT’S DESK
Trade Bill Would Ban Imports Made with Slave Labor
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

“A bill headed for President Barack Obama this week includes a provision that would ban U.S. imports of fish caught by slaves in Southeast Asia, gold mined by children in Africa and garments sewn by abused women in Bangladesh, closing a loophole in an 85-year-old tariff law.” The Senate approved the bill, which would also ban Internet taxes and overhaul trade laws, by a vote of 75-20. It now goes to President Obama.

Source:
TRUMP UP TO 44%
Sanders Closes to Within Seven Nationally in New Poll
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders has closed to within seven points of Hillary Clinton in a new Morning Consult survey. Clinton leads 46%-39%. Consistent with the New Hampshire voting results, Clinton does best with retirees, while Sanders leads by 20 percentage points among those under 30. On the Republican side, Donald Trump is far ahead with 44% support. Trailing by a huge margin are Ted Cruz (17%), Ben Carson (10%) and Marco Rubio (10%).

Source:
×