Going into Tuesday’s Supreme Court oral argument, supporters of limits on campaign contributions were afraid, very afraid, that a majority of the court would signal that it was ready to declare them unconstitutional. Based on questions and comments from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., widely viewed as the swing vote in the case, their trepidation seems at least partly justified. The issue before the court is whether it violates the 1st Amendment to limit donors to an “aggregate” limit on what they can donate to all candidates and party committees combined; the current ceiling is $123,200. Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican donor from Alabama, has challenged the aggregate limit, though not the “base” limit on what a donor can give an individual candidate ($2,600 in the current election cycle).
In its landmark 1976 decision in Buckley vs. Valeo, the court drew a distinction between limits on expenditures by candidates and independent groups, which violate the 1st Amendment, and limits on contributions to candidates and parties, which receive less constitutional protection. The theory is that contributions are less of an expressive act and are likelier to lead to corruption.
This distinction has been ridiculed both by conservatives who believe contributions and expenditures should be unregulated, and by liberals who think both can be subject to limits to constrain the influence of big money. Justice Elena Kagan channeled the latter group at Tuesday’s argument when she told Solicitor General Donald Verrilli: “I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.”
Full Article: Don’t split the baby, Chief Justice Roberts – latimes.com.