In two weeks, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in what many describe as the next Citizens United and the outcome could have major implications for campaign spending at the state level. What’s at stake in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission — for which oral arguments are scheduled on Oct. 8 — is the limit to individual political spending. The federal government sets separate limits for each election cycle on how much an individual can give to candidates, party committees and political action committees. But it also currently limits overall spending to $123,200. It’s that overall limit that the McCutcheon fight is about. Proponents say it prevents corruption; opponents say it limits speech. “When you have somebody writing a one, two or three million dollar check that greatly increases opportunities for corruption,” says Lawrence Norden, a deputy director at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which filed a brief in the case supporting the limit. But critics of the aggregate contribution limit say individual limits — such as the $2,600 cap on donations to a federal candidate or candidate committee per election — already provide that protection.
“We’re not challenging — and the plaintiff in McCutcheon is not challenging — any of the individual contribution limits,” says Rick Esenberg, a Marquette University Law School professor and president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which filed a brief opposing the limit. Why, they ask, is it OK to donate $2,600 to 47 campaigns, but not 48? The case was brought by the Republican National Committee and Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and conservative activist.
At the federal level only a small group — 646 individuals — bumped up against that aggregate limit during the 2012 election cycle, according to The Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets blog. But spending limits in a handful of states are lower, meaning that if they fall money could come flowing in.