Shaun McCutcheon wants to make political donations to federal candidates. Allow me to clarify; McCutcheon wants to make a lot of political donations to federal candidates. The Republican National Committee, among others, wants him to be able to do so. So what’s the problem? Currently, McCutcheon can give $2,600 per election directly to a federal candidate, a total of $48,600 per election to all federal candidates, and $74,600 per election to federal political party committees and political action committees, or PACs, that give money to federal candidates. Put another away, McCutcheon (and other individuals) are subject to a $123,200 per election aggregate contribution limit with respect to candidates, political parties, and PACs. McCutcheon, an electrical engineer living in Alabama, would like to change that. The result is the latest and greatest campaign finance question to hit the high court since Citizens United. In the early 1970s, in the wake of the Watergate scandals that lead to the resignation of President Nixon, Congress implemented the nation’s first comprehensive campaign finance law. The law limited how much could be given to and spent by candidates, how much could be spent by independent groups and organizations, required that certain donations and expenditures be disclosed to the public, and created a system of public campaign financing for presidential candidates. The primary reason that McCutcheon’s argument may likely carry the day is that five of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are, to varying degrees, hostile to campaign finance legislation.
In 1976, in a decision that remains the bedrock of campaign finance law, Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially accepted half of Congress’ attempt to regulate money in politics. The court upheld limits on contributions, disclosure provisions, and the public financing program. However, the court struck down limits on spending by candidates and independent organizations. In the court’s patchwork opinion it upheld the limits on the total amount of contributions that donors could give to candidates, political parties, and other political committees, finding that those limits were a way to prevent the evasion of the direct limits on contributions from individuals to candidates. The court’s analysis is less than satisfying on this point.
In the almost 40 years since that decision much has changed regarding campaign finance laws. Money now flows relatively freely, and in some cases in undisclosed amounts, through our political system. But the aggregate limits on contributions have stood.
Now the Supreme Court appears poised to change that and the only question for McCutcheon is how big his likely win will be. In order to determine the size and scope of McCutcheon’s potential victory, we need to look at the current state of the law.
Full Article: The Continuing Erosion of Campaign Contribution Limits.