RNC, others want U.S. SC to overturn aggregate contribution limits

Jessica M. Karmasek May 20, 2013, 6:20pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The Republican National Committee, in what some are calling the next big campaign finance case, wants the U.S. Supreme Court to give donors greater First Amendment freedom to make contributions to parties and candidates.

In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the RNC and the individual donor involved in the case, Alabaman Shaun McCutcheon, take issue with aggregate contribution limits.

Federal law imposes two types of limits on political contributions by individuals.

Base limits restrict the amount an individual may contribute to a particular candidate committee ($2,600 per election); national party committee ($32,400 per calendar year); state, district and local party committee (a combined limit of $10,000 per calendar year); and political action committee ($5,000 per calendar year).

Aggregate limits restrict the total contributions an individual may make in a biennial election cycle as follows: $48,600 to candidate committees and $74,600 to non-candidate committees, of which no more than $48,600 may go to non-national party committees (i.e., state, district and local party committees).

The RNC and McCutcheon argue that the aggregate limits are unconstitutional because contributors are limited to supporting a certain number of candidates.

Last week, nearly a dozen amicus briefs were filed in the case, which the nation's high court is set to hear during its next term in October

Among those: a brief by the nonpartisan nonprofit Committee for Justice.

In its May 13 brief, CFJ sided with the RNC and McCutcheon.

"It is hard enough to square McCain-Feingold's base limits with the First Amendment, but it's even harder to justify the aggregate limits, which serve no significant interest -- constitutionally valid or otherwise -- when added on top of the base limits," CFJ President Curt Levey said.

"Striking down the aggregate limits would be both important in its own right and a critical first step towards ending the second-class treatment of political contributions under the First Amendment."

The committee's 33-page brief points out that base limits are purported to serve the only two interests -- countering the occurrence or perception of quid pro quo political corruption -- identified by the Supreme Court as constitutionally sufficient to justify contribution limits.

Therefore, the aggregate limits can add nothing more than ensuring that no one engages in too much political speech, an interest the court has rejected, CFJ contends.

CFJ's brief also focuses on the "perverse effect" of the aggregate limits, which serve to direct the flow of money away from candidates and political parties and towards entities, such as Super PACs and 501(c)(4) organizations, that engage in unregulated independent expenditures.

"The resulting flow of money away from candidates and political parties and towards independent expenditure groups is completely counter to the one interest expressed almost unanimously by the public -- the desire for more political compromise and less hyper-politicization of campaigns," said Levey, who authored the committee's amicus brief.

"As a 501(c)(4) organization, the Committee for Justice is well aware that (c)(4)'s and Super PACs cannot serve the unique and important role that political parties play in the political process, a role that is being weakened by McCain-Feingold's aggregate limits."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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