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.