The sweeping language and logic of Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on campaign finance may imperil other legal restrictions on money in politics. The 5-to-4 decision, which struck down overall limits on contributions by individuals to candidates and parties, was the latest in a series of campaign finance decisions from the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. that took an expansive view of First Amendment rights and a narrow one of political corruption. According to experts in election law, there is no reason to think that the march toward deregulating election spending will stop with the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. “Those who support limits see the court right now as the T. Rex from ‘Jurassic Park,’” said Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “What’s next? ‘Just don’t move. He can’t see us if we don’t move.’” For now, federal law bars corporations from making contributions to candidates, though they can spend what they like independently to support or oppose candidates. Contributions from individuals to candidates are capped at $2,600 per election. Individual contributions to political parties are capped, too. Public financing of elections is allowed.
All of those limits may be vulnerable under the reasoning of the McCutcheon and Citizens United decisions, as well as the “soft money” ban, which limits individual contributions to political parties even if the money is to be spent on activities unrelated to federal elections.
The next case may arrive soon. At their private conference on Friday, the justices are scheduled to consider whether to hear Iowa Right to Life Committee v. Tooker, No. 13-407, a petition from James Bopp Jr., one of the lawyers on the winning side in the McCutcheon case. It challenges an Iowa law that bans contributions from corporations but allows them from unions.
Mr. Bopp said he had scoured Chief Justice Roberts’s controlling opinion in the McCutcheon case for hints and clues. “I didn’t see any real blatant signals about what they would entertain in the future,” he said. “On the other side, this is the latest in a series of cases from a five-member majority that is very friendly to the First Amendment.”