The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision reshaped American politics by striking down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. But it did nothing to disturb the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on individuals’ direct contributions to candidates. Shaun McCutcheon wants to change that. He has built a thriving engineering firm here, and he wants to give some of the money he makes to conservative political candidates. But a federal law limits the overall amount he can contribute to all candidates in an election cycle, and that does not sit right with him. “I think we need to spend more money on politics, not less,” he said. “I think we need to improve it.” The Supreme Court will hear his challenge to the overall limits next Tuesday. Some critics of Citizens United say the new case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, has the potential to destroy what is left of federal campaign finance regulation.
“It’s the second bomb dropping on controlling the abuses of money in politics,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which supports strict campaign finance laws. “If you knock out aggregate contribution limits, you create a system of legalized bribery in this country.” Mr. McCutcheon, 46, said a lot of the liberal commentary on his case was laced with alarmism.
He has no quarrel, he said, with the familiar base limits on contributions, currently $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. What puzzles him, he said, is why he is subject to a separate overall limit of $48,600 every two years for contributions to all federal candidates.
The base limits on donations to individual candidates make sense, Mr. McCutcheon said, because large contributions could buy undue influence. But he said he did not grasp why he can give to 17 candidates, but not to an 18th. “If I give that same legal amount to an 18th candidate, I’m somehow corrupting the system,” he said in a recent speech. “Really?”