The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed prepared to strike down a part of federal campaign finance law left intact by its decision in Citizens United in 2010: overall limits on direct contributions from individuals to candidates. The justices seemed to divide along familiar ideological lines, and they articulated starkly different understandings of the role of money and free speech in American politics. “By having these limits, you are promoting democratic participation,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “Then the little people will count some and you won’t have the super-affluent as the speakers that will control the elections.” Justice Antonin Scalia responded, sarcastically, that he assumed “a law that only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is O.K.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who probably holds the crucial vote, indicated that he was inclined to strike down overall limits on contributions to several candidates, but perhaps not separate overall limits on contributions to several political committees.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, President Obama said the case had the potential to destroy what was left of campaign finance regulation. “The latest case would go even further than Citizens United,” he said. “It would say anything goes: there are no rules in terms of how to finance campaigns.”
The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, is a sort of sequel to Citizens United, which struck down limits on independent campaign spending on television advertisements and the like by corporations and unions. The new case is an attack on the other main pillar of federal campaign finance regulation: limits on contributions made directly to political candidates and party committees.