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*** UPDATED x1 - Who benefits most? *** Wealthy campaign contributors unleashed by SCOTUS

Wednesday, Apr 2, 2014

* AP

The Supreme Court struck down limits Wednesday in federal law on the overall campaign contributions the biggest individual donors may make to candidates, political parties and political action committees.

The justices said in a 5-4 vote that Americans have a right to give the legal maximum to candidates for Congress and president, as well as to parties and PACs, without worrying that they will violate the law when they bump up against a limit on all contributions, set at $123,200 for 2013 and 2014. That includes a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates.

But their decision does not undermine limits on individual contributions to candidates for president or Congress, now $2,600 an election.

Chief Justice John Roberts announced the decision, which split the court’s liberal and conservative justices. Roberts said the aggregate limits do not act to prevent corruption, the rationale the court has upheld as justifying contribution limits.

The full decision is here.

* New York Times

The decision chipped away at the central distinction drawn by the Supreme Court in its seminal 1976 campaign finance decision, Buckley v. Valeo.

Independent spending, the court said in Buckley, is political speech protected by the First Amendment. But contributions may be capped, the court said, in the name of preventing corruption. The court added that aggregate contribution limits were a “quite modest restraint upon protected political activity” that “serves to prevent evasion” of the base limits.

Wednesday’s decision only concerned contributions from individuals. Federal law continues to ban contributions by corporations and unions.

The court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been consistently hostile to campaign finance limits in its half-dozen decisions in argued cases on the subject so far. The five more conservative justices have voted together in all of those cases, though Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. have taken a more incremental approach than the bolder one called for by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy.

Wednesday’s decision may increase overall campaign spending, but it may also rechannel some of it away from “super PACs” and toward candidates and parties.

* Washington Post

This [restriction] meant that donors weren’t able to spread around donations to multiple party committees and candidates and would have to be more selective about whom they contributed to.

In its decision, the court compared the overall contribution limits to restricting the number of candidates a newspaper can endorse.

“Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association,” the justices wrote. “A restriction on how many candidates and committees an individual may support is hardly a ‘modest Restraint’ on those rights. The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.” […]

Most Republicans, though, praised the ruling for allowing Americans to have more voice in the political process through political donations.

“Today’s Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse,” said Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

*** UPDATE *** From the Sunlight Foundation

In the current election cycle, those nearing the limits include 11 donors who derive their wealth from private equity and investment firms. During the first three quarters of 2013, there were 13 who gave solely to Republican candidates and parties and four who gave only to Democrats. Only three of the donors contributed to candidates of both parties, but they heavily favored (95 percent or more) one party over the other. While just three led companies that are currently lobbying the federal government, 17 of them made large contributions to super PACs. And many of them are trying to influence the government.

Go read it all.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


43 Comments
  1. - Walker - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:16 am:

    More personal wealth equals more political speech — and that’s good for America.

    Thank you national GOP for making your ideology so clear.


  2. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:23 am:

    Justice O’Connor retired and we got the hyper-partisan hack Alito. Hardly seems fair.

    That lady had game.


  3. - OneMan - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:24 am:

    Cry havoc and release the dogs of war….


  4. - Makandadawg - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:24 am:

    Why should just the candidates benefit from all this money being funneled in the public sector by the wealthy donors. Time to tax these people more so we all get a piece of the pie.


  5. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:30 am:

    Why doesn’t the court just apportion votes based on income and be done with it? You get one vote for each dollar you earn annually. That seems fair, doesn’t it?

    Wealthy people have greater political influence than poor people. We always knew that was true, but now it’s encoded into our law.

    Only in America.


  6. - West Sider - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:33 am:

    - OneMan - “Cry havoc….”indeed.
    The salvation of this disastrous court, might be that the obscene amounts of money may now go to candidates and parties, instead of super PACs.


  7. - Robo - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:33 am:

    Well…money seeks it’s own level, no matter what party it benefits. I’d rather know where the money flows rather than guessing.


  8. - Anon - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:34 am:

    Time for a tax on political contributions, no?


  9. - iThink - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:37 am:

    ==Time for a tax on political contributions, no? ==

    Bought and Sold. A sales tax would seem appropriate.


  10. - Plutocrat03 - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:37 am:

    Looks to me the biggest beneficiaries are the members of the media who reap the benefits of all the spending.

    The left has all the free press and the right has to pay. Sounds fair to me.


  11. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:40 am:

    –The left has all the free press and the right has to pay. –

    Another victim heard from. And a clueless one at that.


  12. - Plutocrat03 - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:41 am:

    - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:30 am:

    Why doesn’t the court just apportion votes based on income and be done with it? You get one vote for each dollar you earn annually. That seems fair, doesn’t it?

    Wealthy people have greater political influence than poor people. We always knew that was true, but now it’s encoded into our law.

    On the contrary, aggregate all the speech made by the pols and their actions purport to be for the children or poor..


  13. - fed up - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:41 am:

    Maybe the most fair and progressive way to regulate campaign contributions is to tie it to a percentage of income. Its fair to make the rich pay more tax so why wouldnt it be fait to let them contribute more to campaigns


  14. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:53 am:

    Pluto, your handle sort of gives away your stance on issues like this.

    You know who else made a lot of speeches advocating for children and the poor? Remember what He said about the wealthy getting into heaven?


  15. - Jorge - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:54 am:

    How much longer until only landowners are allowed to vote? I know history repeats itself but sheesh, this return to the gilded age is just pathetic.


  16. - OneMan - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:58 am:

    Well if pure money won elections, it seems to me we would be not talking about Governor Quinn being governor, there would be a host of different senators and a different president (since Blair Hull would have won the primary against Obama)…

    I don’t think this is the rich guy apocalypse you are expecting…


  17. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:01 am:

    ===I don’t think this is the rich guy apocalypse you are expecting===

    It’s probably not that, I agree. We should all keep our comments based in reality. Strawmen like “it’s not a rich guy apocalypse” included.


  18. - lake county democrat - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:04 am:

    Wordslinger buys into the Jeffrey Toobin “Justice O’Connor was great” revisionist history, but actually she was abysmal. Rather than draw any firm lines in the sand, she would merely blunt the immediate impact of the conservative wing’s upending of established precedent in save face. Later the conservatives would simply push the bar further, like what they’re doing now with her nebulous ruling on abortion. Not to mention her pitiful performance in Bush v. Gore - when the networks initially called Florida for Gore, she was at an election-watching party and shouted “this is awful!” and left the room. Her husband explained that they had hoped to retire to Arizona but with Gore as President they’d have to stay. A sixth grader could see the conflict of interest once the decision came before the court. And of course the decision is arguably the worst moment of the Court in modern history: even Conservative legal scholars don’t defend it anymore.

    If O’Connor was on the court today she would have issued a concurring opinion that struck the ban but somehow left a glimmer of light that Congress could pass sone sort of aggregate limits.


  19. - jim - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:05 am:

    george soros is probably delighted.


  20. - A guy... - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:06 am:

    Granted, money creates some advantages and poses more hurdles. Yet, look at money wasted on both sides of the political spectrum on candidates who didn’t deliver the goods despite the spending against them. You still need “bona fides” to win in most races and our vetting system must rank as among the cruelest on Earth. Some will sneak through because of big money. More won’t. You still have to convince big money or little money to back you and you still have to convince regular folks to vote for you. The pendulum swings. People are just as likely to vote against big money as they are for it.


  21. - bigdaddygeo - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:07 am:

    Alexi spent $10 million, Kirk spent $14 million. Durbin may spend more. The idea that a single $2,600 contribution even to every member of a single party makes any difference at all is a joke. Pr Obama all but laughed out loud when asked about McCain Feingold limits and hasn’t appointed anyone to the FEC where every member is acting on an expired term. Repubs aren’t exactly pressuring him to do it for obvious reasons.

    There are essentially no limits on contributions to Super PACs and national and state political committees (a hoop here or there). Who can then distribute it to anyone without limit. You know, I think guys like Priebus and Madigan kind of like it that way.

    So now a handful of contributors can have a few more of their phone calls or letters ignored after being patronized by candidates instead of being immediately dismissed. The march of liberty and freedom in America continues unimpeded.


  22. - Perry Noya - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:19 am:

    “And many of them are trying to influence the government.”–Sunshine Foundation

    OMG! People are exercising their First Amendment rights! We can’t have that! Quick! Repeal the First Amendment!


  23. - OneMan - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:37 am:

    Avoiding my strawman as it were…

    But using Illinois as an example, we for a long time had no real constraints on giving and we didn’t end up being led by some sort of pro-wealthy collective.

    For unlimited money to cause a problem, you first need several people to give a lot of money or you are a self funder.

    In general, it seems to me the self funders have not had a lot of success in Illinois (so giving a lot of money to yourself to run hasn’t worked out that well when looking at history here in Illinois), they definitely have not had the success you would expect if resources were the key.

    We have had candidates who have gotten a large amount of money from one (or a few) wealthy folks and they also in general as I can recall not had a ton of luck either. Roland Burris comes to mind, I seem to recall someone gave him a ton of money when he ran for governor.

    But lets say money is bad…

    How is this going to bring a whole lot more money into the system?

    The very rich have already figured out how to push as much money as the want/can into the system so this isn’t going to change much there.

    Will it allow those who wanted to give more but didn’t want to screw with a superpac or whatever give more? Yeah, but I suspect this isn’t going to lead to a lot more money coming into play.

    Might it move some money out of the superpacs and move it into standard campaigns? Yeah but not too much I suspect the general secrecy of superpacs has too much appeal to those who give to them for donors to walk away from them.

    Who is it going to impact….

    Those folks who give to both parties due to some subtle suggestion from their employer or industry group. So you will see those contributions go up some, but I don’t think enough to be a major money game changer.


  24. - CollegeStudent - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:38 am:

    ===“And many of them are trying to influence the government.”–Sunshine Foundation

    OMG! People are exercising their First Amendment rights! We can’t have that! Quick! Repeal the First Amendment! ===

    It’s not that they’re trying to influence the government. It’s what they expect in return for that influence. Something to think about when you see pushes to privatize government functions.


  25. - bored now - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:48 am:

    it probably doesn’t benefit candidates as much as they’d like. candidates have always known that an overwhelming percentage of funds come from a small percentage of funders. it’s not like this ruling is going to dramatically increase the number of those people who give big dollars. it just increases the number of candidates to whom they can contribute. the perception sucks, and it does look like democracy for sale (which may very well suppress the interest of the typical voter in elections), but perceptions aren’t everything…


  26. - Dan Johnson - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 11:50 am:

    This is the same Court majority that thinks it is consistent with the First Amendment for states to impose a picture ID requirement that has the effect of blocking tens of thousands of citizens from voting every election cycle.


  27. - ZC - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 12:04 pm:

    I am not a fan of the new campaign finance Constitution, post-O’Connor.

    However, trying to make lemonade here, there are at least two aspects of this decision that don’t strike me as all bad.

    1) What this law most effectively allows for, is the creation of massive joint fundraising committees. Candidates and parties (probably state and federal) will create complicated legal agreements whereby a donor can write one massive check, and the money will get parceled out accordingly to whomever is entitled to a percentage share of the cash. This fundamentally will benefit parties and party leaders. Depending on what you think of strong parties, that could be bad or good, but I think on margin it’s better than huge checks being written to these outside groups helmed by eccentric billionaires.

    2) Any money opened up by this ruling will be automatically covered by campaign disclosure laws. It’s all “hard dollars.” So if this diverts any contributions that were otherwise headed for the Koch Brothers’ shadowy 501c4s, that’s a net victory for transparency.

    So - marginally stronger political parties, marginally better disclosure. The tradeoff of course is that this does open up one more avenue for some mega-donor willing to write a $1M check to the “super joint fundraising committees” that will form after this decision. And that will obviously convey more influence and access to the donors willing to write that check.

    Lastly, it strikes me that this ruling will be a headache for some of the rich lobbyists who used to be able to beg, “I’ve maxed out, I’ve maxed out,” when asked for yet another individual donation. Now they’ll be hunted nonstop throughout D.C.


  28. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 12:25 pm:

    Are the rich folks and companies the only ones who contribute large sums of money to politicians?


  29. - OneMan - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 12:32 pm:

    == It’s not that they’re trying to influence the government. It’s what they expect in return for that influence. Something to think about when you see pushes to privatize government functions. ==

    Most people and entities who try to influence government in some way do so for their own benefit.


  30. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 12:54 pm:

    Oh, goody. More money in politics. Because that was our problem.

    I am rapidly growing more receptive to either extreme: let’s either remove all caps or go to public funding.

    Either of those are better than our current miserable system. We tinker around the edges every few years via legislation or lawsuits, only to watch legislators continue being forced to spend more of their time chasing dollars than serving constituents. And with each failed reform, some defend it as bringing us one step closer to a truly equitable system - that perhaps the “next time” whatever tweaks we make will finally “fix” the flaws in our campaign finance structure.

    Unfortunately, it is not that parts of our campaign finance system need repair. Rather, it is that our current campaign finance system is broken beyond repair.


  31. - LincolnLounger - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 1:07 pm:

    ZC is all over this, exactly right, and deserves a gold star.

    This is mostly good news for those of us who would rather see transparent contributions to candidate committees and Party committees as opposed to shadowy Super PACs and the like.

    In particular, I think this is excellent news for state and federal political party committees. The more we strengthen them vs. Super PACs, I think all the better.


  32. - OneMan - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 1:09 pm:

    FKA..

    In terms of going with public funding, some magazine (I think) had a story about the impact that had on Arizona, leading to a much more conservative legislature than the state is as a whole.


  33. - fed up - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 1:17 pm:

    “This is the same Court majority that thinks it is consistent with the First Amendment for states to impose a picture ID requirement that has the effect of blocking tens of thousands of citizens from voting every election cycle”

    Pure and simple BS no one is blocked from voting because of any ID laws,


  34. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 1:23 pm:

    OneMan - Interesting. On first blush, those results seem almost counterintuitive somehow. I would have expected public funding to open the door for more moderate voices and “grassroots” types, rather than propelling hard-liners from either party.

    Thanks for sharing that, OneMan. I’m curious to find the story now.


  35. - Alder-Man - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 2:00 pm:

    OneMan & FKA I believe it was from the WaPo Fix blogpost about why is AZ so extreme around the time of Jan Brewer’s veto of the religious exemption to discriminate bill. It cited public funding providing a more level playing field for extreme-minded candidates. It also suggested that term limits were also a contributing factor.


  36. - CollegeStudent - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 2:34 pm:

    ===“This is the same Court majority that thinks it is consistent with the First Amendment for states to impose a picture ID requirement that has the effect of blocking tens of thousands of citizens from voting every election cycle”

    Pure and simple BS no one is blocked from voting because of any ID laws===

    Then why is this really only a Republican hobby horse?

    At a more fundamental level though, there is a logical disconnect between imposing restrictions on voting and then removing caps on campaign donations on free speech grounds.

    Voting is perhaps the most fundamental expression of free speech in our country. Why should there be any restrictions beyond one man one vote?


  37. - A guy... - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 2:57 pm:

    ===Why should there be any restrictions beyond one man one vote?===

    There shouldn’t. There are some who would tell you this is the problem.


  38. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 4:05 pm:

    === why is this really only a Republican hobby horse ===

    An issue that consistently polls at 70%+ is far from a “Republican” hobby horse.

    More like a “Republican, Democrat and Independent” hobby horse.


  39. - Responsa - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 4:55 pm:

    I have a question for all those who are having cats and especially all those who are having hissy fits because they read somewhere else that they *should* have a hissy fit about it: What significantly and materially has changed enough to warrant the outrage? How can the 2014 or 2016 election campaigns be funded that differently than the 2010 and 2012 ones were? There are mighty PACs and rich donors and bundlers who bundle them on both sides of the aisle. There are rich interest groups who fund on both sides of the aisle. Geez. Take a breath people.


  40. - Fed up - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 5:24 pm:

    I agree one citizen one vote. Perhaps we should make Illinois voting districts the same size no 10% variance cut it down to 2-3%. One citizen one vote.


  41. - Just The Way It Is One - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 6:36 pm:

    Who benefits most will be the Republican Party, Super PACS for Republican Candidates and Causes, and, especially, now ALL Republican Candidates for the U.S. House, Senate–ALL of them not just some, in EVERY Election–and mostly GOP Candidates for Governorships and Legislatures.

    Why is obvious–because the Republican Supporters/Contributors of these GOP Candidates are FAR WEALTHier than Democratic Donors as a rule, and will now have only piddly restrictions on amounts for Congressional, Senate, and Presidential Candidates–but not as to how MANY of the former can be contributed to…! Until or unless this Ruling is reversed some time down the road soon by a Justice Breyer’s Position-Majority 5-4 Vote the other WAY, in my view this HIGHLY-Significant SCOTUS development will soon change the outcome of MANY Elections, particularly CLOSE ones, and favoring Republican Candidates as a Rule, for some time to come now…!


  42. - Responsa - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 6:58 pm:

    ==because the Republican Supporters/Contributors of these GOP Candidates are FAR WEALTHier than Democratic Donors as a rule==

    Wow. Where to even start…..


  43. - Capitol View - Wednesday, Apr 2, 14 @ 10:56 pm:

    this change will help the single issue groups - lists will be created of their supporters, and it will be easy to spread the money around.
    Political contributions are supposed to support the candidate. Now, it will be more supporting the platform, with the candidate just a nodding non-entity.
    Not exactly as the Founding Fathers intended…


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