RT: Supreme Court could eliminate remaining restrictions on wealthy political donors

Published time: September 23, 2013 23:06

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP) The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

The US Supreme Court may be poised to strike down one of the few remaining campaign finance laws when it reconvenes next month, potentially lending even greater influence to wealthy donors in the wake of the court’s landmark Citizens United ruling.

Both Republican and Democratic politicians increasingly rely on a small number of the wealthiest one percent of Americans to fund their campaign efforts. The funding, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, stems from the “elite class that serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.”

On October 8, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments related to whether “aggregate limits” – or restrictions on how much money a donor can directly provide a candidate for Congress or party committees during a two-year election season – is in violation of free speech.

The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), was brought forth by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been granted 30 minutes to present an oral argument to the court next month.

McCutcheon, also a Republican, said he is opposed to the current cap of $123,200 which donors are permitted to give every two years to federal candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs).

Current law permits individuals to donate $2,500 per election to federal candidates, $5,000 per calendar year to any non-party political committee, and $30,800 per calendar year to a national party committee. Those limits have not been challenged in the case by McCutcheon and McConnell.

McCutcheon v. FEC has been portrayed as a sequel to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. In that controversial decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “independent” spending by corporations, labor unions, and other associations on election races was protected by free speech.

Wealthy donors hoping for political influence may now provide millions of dollars to Super PACs and other organizations that buy commercial space and work to influence the public. But they are forbidden from donating more than $48,600 total to all members of Congress, or more than $74,600 to party committees.

If the conservative-leaning court sides with McCutcheon and McConnell, financial backers would be allowed to donate nearly four million dollars to part committees and candidates. The money, according to David Savage of The Los Angeles Times, would then be funneled to races the party sees fit.

It would be terrible for our democracy…if one politician could directly solicit $3.6 million from a single donor,” said Lawrence Norden, an election law expert with the Brennan Center in New York. “That is 70 times the median income for an American family. It would mean a tiny, tiny group of donors would wield unprecedented power and influence.”

Pundits widely expect the changes to be put in place because of the similarities between this case and Citizens United, when five of the Republican-appointed justices decided to eliminate spending limits and the four Democratically-appointed dissenting.

If the Supreme Court reverses its past position and strikes down the long-standing aggregate contribution limits, it will open the door wide open to corruption of our federal officeholders and government decisions,” said Fred Wertheimer, a supporter of restrictions on campaign funding.

Such a decision is expected to have a partisan impact, as well. Republican campaign committees have supported McConnell in his years-long fight to eliminate finance restrictions, while House Democrats have spoken out against the case. US President Obama specifically criticized the Citizens United ruling in his 2010 State of the Union address, saying the decision would “open the floodgates for special interests.”

Some have denied that McCutcheon v. FEC would be advantageous to one side or the other, while Sunlight Foundation researcher Lee Drutman told the Times: “The data shows there are more big donors on the right than on the left.”

Yet Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer for the New Yorker, wrote that such data could simply be irrelevant.

Citizens United was not an aberration for this Court,” he wrote. “It emerged from a definite view about the intersection of campaigns and free speech. The Justices in the majority are engaging in a long-term project to deregulate campaigns. A blessing on unlimited aggregate contributions is the next logical step for them to take – and they have five votes.”

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4 Responses to RT: Supreme Court could eliminate remaining restrictions on wealthy political donors

  1. steadyone says:

    RT: Supreme Court could eliminate remaining restrictions on wealthy political donors
    We must counter this ever increasing onslaught of the money influence with in our political structure, this is of first and foremost importance for true and positive change.

    Easy to fix solution>
    Pass a bill that would eliminate the money lobbyists influence.
    Mandate an equal campaign limit and donation from the public and privet arena, for all running.
    Equal time for adds and debates on air, donated from the public media as a service to the public.

    We must first expose and prosecute the corruption at the top of the money influence for this to be accomplished.

  2. Anne Randall says:

    The wealthy owns our elected officials and with this new ruling, which no doubt the wealthy will get, will allow the wealthy more power. The wealthy bankers and corporations have infiltrated our elected officials to do their bidding and its working and has been working for a very long time and now if this passes, they will have more money to give to our elected officials who do not have We The People’s business at heart, only their own agendas and the ones who fund their campaigns. So, does it really matter who we vote for? IMHO, they are all a bunch of criminals, gangsters, liars, cheaters and it doesn’t matter which party you vote for. As an aside, I receive anywhere from 3 to 8 BEGGING REQUESTS daily from politicians for money to assist them. It pisses me off. Why should I give them anything. I feel that is just another way the politicians use We The People. All of the promises they promise and when elected The Peoples’ business is put on the back burner, as their wealthy donors’ agendas come first. All of them can go straight to hell!

  3. Dennis says:

    Dollars equal INFLUENCE equals POWER in our Present culture. If John Roberts equates dollars to free speech then to allow wealthy groups unlimitied POWER based, soley on their disproportionate wealth, would be to, in effect, limit the voice of those who don’t have access to similar wealth and would be to give the wealthy groups disproportionate advantage and power over those with less access to wealth. Since the spirit behind the free speech amendment is to give an equal voice to all citizens or at least level the playing field somewhat, to legislate a greater freedome (power through their wealth) to one group, the wealthy, over others is clearly a violation of the spirit and intent of the free seech amendment. To take away a restriction on the amount of dollars that can be contributed, a restriction obviously put in place to prevent one group from having a disproportionate influence over another group, is, in effect to limit the power of the less wealthy group, and thus actually violates the freedom of the ordinary citizens.

    For a Supreme Court Justice to tie this issue to the free speach amendment and then to arrive at a decision that awards disproportionate influence to one group and limits the freedome of another group and then uses the spirit of free speach to justifie his rulling is such a slick shell game that it brings into question the integriy of this justice and those that supported his dicision.

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