By Miriam Raftery
April 2, 2014 (Washington D.C.) – The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down limits on how much money an individual can donate overall during elections. By a 5-4 vote in the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court’s majority tossed out restrictions on how much a person can donate to political parties, political action committees or PACs, and candidates in any two-year period, though limits on how much one can give to any single candidate remain in place.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, finding that the limits intruded on what he called a “citizen’s ability to exercise the most fundamental First Amendment activities.”
But Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to transparency in government and helping ordinary Americans have their voices heard, denounced the high court’s ruling as a “decision against democracy.”
Common Cause president Miles Rapoport said the Supreme Court decision has “laid out a welcome mat for corruption” and ignores lessons learned from the Watergate scandal. The decision will enable a politician to get a check for millions of dollars from party committees from a single donor, with the party then funneling that money directly to politicians.
“This is a return to the `soft money’ era in which donors could hide six and seven figure gifts to individual candidates,” Rapoport warned, noting that lobbyists and major donors are often rewarded with political favors, tax breaks, and government jobs. “This system already has helped produce economic inequality unlike any seen in America since before the Great Depression,” he said, adding that this court decision will make that even worse.
The ruling comes on the heels of the much-criticized Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, which allowed virtually unlimited political donations by super PACs and some types of nonprofits without disclosure to voters.
Common Cause concludes that the only way to restore fairness in campaign financing will be to pass a constitutional amendment authorizing Congress and states to limit campaign spending. Already 16 state legislatures and hundreds of local municipalities have passed such resolutions. But Congress must also approve any Constitutional Amendment – and the highest ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, actually filed a friend of the court brief in support of the decision the court reached to toss out limits on individuals’ total campaign donations. McConnell says Americans have a constitutional right to speak and associate with political candidates and parties of their choice.
But many would disagree that free speak includes the right to have unlimited financial influence in elections. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat, has called the decision “another step on the road to ruination,” warning that it may result in the “end of any fairness in the political system as we know it.”