I attended today’s U.S. Supreme Court oral argument in the case challenging contribution limits. If the Justices rewrite campaign finance law by striking down the contribution limits, checks of up to $2.95 million each from wealthy contributors will corrupt democracy. During the 2012 election, Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon gave a total of over $113,000 spread out to various candidates, party committees, and PACs. Federal law prohibits McCutcheon (or any individual) from contributing over $2600 to any one candidate (per election), or over $32,400 to any one party committee (e.g., the National Republican Senatorial Committee). Federal law also has an aggregate limit–individuals cannot contribute a total of over $123,200 to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs. In the case before the Supreme Court, McCutcheon argues that this aggregate $123,000 limit violates his First Amendment rights. The problem, however, is that striking down the $123,200 aggregate contribution limit would open the door to politicians soliciting checks of up to $2.95 million each. This would lead to massive quid pro quo corruption.
In addition to teaching campaign finance law, I raised over $3 million as a member of the Obama National Finance Committee. In 2007, we started out collecting maximum checks of $2300, and this was the focus of our efforts for most of the 2008 campaign. In 2011, however, we initially collected individual checks of up to $35,800 each, which eventually rose to $75,800 (as it did for the Romney campaign). Federal law allowed us to collect a single $75,800 check made out to a joint fundraising committee–$2500 of which was allocated to the Obama campaign primary election, $2500 to the Obama campaign general election, $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee, and $40,000 to state parties.
The only thing that prevented us from collecting bigger checks was the aggregate contribution limit.
If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the $123,200 aggregate contribution limit, an elected official will be able to solicit and collect a single check of up to $2.95 million–which would then be allocated among various party committees (the national, senate, and congressional committees) and federal candidates. (The elected official will be able to collect two checks from one individual totaling $3.5 million over the course of a year and a day).