Why are social justice organizations up in arms about an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case involving political contribution limits? It might have something to do with America’s widening income inequality, which in many ways is being financed by wealthy campaign donors. A ruling in favor of lifting limits on the amount individuals can contribute would allow the wealthiest of the wealthy to control parties in ways that would make the Great Gatsby proud. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is seen by campaign finance reform watchdogs as a sequel to Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that held the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. Independent expenditures are campaign communications that support or oppose candidates but are made independently of the candidate, committee, or party. In other words, the Supreme Court said that money talks and political races are not the venue to hush it — even if spending by Fortune 500 companies might drown out the political expressions of people of color and those of limited means.
A case brought by an Alabama businessman and the Republican National Committee, McCutcheon seeks to lift the aggregate limit — currently set at $123,200 — on how much an individual can donate directly to federal candidates, parties and traditional political action committees during a two-year election cycle. A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs threatens to exacerbate the muffling of the poor while widening margins of inequality. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin Oct. 8.
“In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to restore faith in government and the political process by limiting the influence of money in politics,” said Kim Keenan, general counsel for the NAACP. “This is the result that Americans deserve.”
The NAACP is helping lead the Democracy Initiative coalition, which joins civil rights organizations with labor and environmental groups in response to the post-2010 assault on voting rights, including restrictive photo ID and “proof of citizenship” voter registration laws. Democracy Initiative member organizations Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communications Workers of America and the NAACP, along with about a half-dozen other organizations that collectively represent over 9.4 million members, have signed on to an amicus brief in McCutcheon that opposes lifting contribution limits.
“The last thing our nation needs is another decision like Citizens United, opening up the floodgates to even more corrupting money from big polluters that will drown out the voices of the rest of us and wash away any remaining notion of accountability in our government,” said Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club’s Democracy Program.