The very wealthy could play a much greater role in funding federal candidates and political parties if the Supreme Court rules that a key campaign finance restriction adopted after Watergate is unconstitutional. Under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court already has junked a number of election spending limits as improper restrictions on political expression — perhaps most dramatically with its 2010 Citizens United decision, which wiped out the ban on corporate election spending. A bold and broad decision by the court in one of its first cases of the new term, Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which the justices are to hear Tuesday, could overturn decades of precedent about the remaining power the government has to limit contributions to candidates and parties.
Critics argue that such limits impinge free expression. Supporters view the caps as the last dam preventing a tidal wave of money from flooding federal campaigns, which have been buffeted by an explosion of super PACs fueled by unlimited donations.
The current case, brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a businessman from Hoover, Ala., and the Republican National Committee, involves a restriction that many Americans are probably unaware of and even fewer could afford to violate: the limit on the overall amount that one person may give during a two-year election cycle to federal candidates, political parties and committees.