The Supreme Court will hear campaign donation limits appeal
Three years since the landmark Citizens United decision that dramatically changed campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will take up another campaign finance case challenging how much donors can give to campaigns and committees.
The court will hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which deals with the constitutionality of aggregate contribution limits, in October. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama resident, contributed a total of $33,088 to 16 candidates during the 2012 election cycle and thousands more to party committees. He wanted his contributions for the cycle to total $75,000 to party committees and $54,400 to candidates but was barred from giving at that level by federal aggregate limits.
The Republican National Committee and McCutcheon challenged the FEC’s contribution limits under the First Amendment, saying the $46,200 aggregate limit for candidates and $70,800 limit for committees was “unsupported by any cognizable government interest … at any level of review.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the limits.
Rick Hasen, a campaign finance expert, told POLITICO that although the ability to give unlimited amounts to super PACs and nonprofits has made federal aggregate limits to campaigns and committees less important, the court taking up the case is still notable.
“The ability to get around it does undermine the case for limits,” Hasen said. “But the case could have broader implications. It will be the first time since Citizens United that the court decides how to judge campaign finance laws.”
In a blog post on the issue, Hasen also signaled that the case could open the door for abolishing all contribution limits. “It is possible in this case, for example, that the conservative five justices in [Citizens United] set out a general standard for reviewing contribution limits which makes them harder to sustain against constitutional challenge.”
The Center for Competitive Politics pointed out in a statement that if the court rules in favor of McCutcheon, it would equalize the role of party committees, which saw their power diminish in the 2012 election, with super PACs. Arguing in favor of McCutcheon, the center’s statement said that the “First Amendment requires the government to carefully tailor its regulation of political expression and association. Aggregate limits fail to do so, and are instead premised on an unlawful attempt to equalize political speech.”
The RNC, a plaintiff in the case, and Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Tuesday morning: “Pleased SCOTUS will hear our case: McCutcheon et al. v. FEC, that challenges aggregate biennial contribution limits on party & candidates.”
Groups that have been pushing for campaign finance reform also released statements defending contribution limits immediately following the court’s announcement.
Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, which will file an amicus brief in the case, said in a statement that the “court would do extraordinary damage to the nation’s ability to prevent the corruption of federal officeholders and government decisions.”
And Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, said: “In recent decisions, the court has too often sided with big donors and against our democracy. It’s time for the court to stand up for the voices of everyday people and uphold the limits.”