U.S. SC to hear arguments in campaign finance case next week

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- The U.S. Supreme Court next week will hear arguments in what some have deemed the next big campaign finance case, and eight special interest groups contend the federal court ruling needs to be upheld to protect democracy.

Oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission are set for Tuesday.

Free Speech For People, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, Common Cause, U.S. PIRG, Center for Media and Democracy, the Backbone Campaign and Alliance for Democracy want the nation's high court to uphold last year's decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

They argue, at the least, the challenged biennial campaign contribution limits should be upheld as constitutional.

But they also contend there is an "urgent need" for amending the U.S. Constitution.

"In McCutcheon, the court is being asked to strike down aggregate contribution limits and allow multi-million-dollar campaign contributions to flood our electoral process," the groups said in a statement Wednesday.

They contend the case could bring further harm to the nation's political system.

The court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has already "opened the door to a torrent of corporate and special interest spending to influence elections," they argue.

The nation's high court, in 2010, held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited because of the First Amendment.

The court's ruling in favor of Citizens United stemmed from a dispute over whether the non-profit corporation could air a film critical of current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"The Supreme Court should not repeat the grave mistakes of its disastrous Citizens United ruling in the McCutcheon case by giving the richest few even more disproportionate influence over our democracy," Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, said Wednesday.

"The notion that anyone's 'speech' rights are burdened because he can't give more than $123,200 in campaign contributions is an absolute perversion of the First Amendment, and the fact that the high court would even consider such a claim demonstrates that we need to amend our Constitution to stop the distortions of big money in our elections and restore the primacy of the people in our democracy."

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, agreed.

"In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to double down on Citizens United to transform further our democracy -- rule by the people -- into a wealthocracy," he said.

"We can only hope that this is one step too far for the Supreme Court. But we shouldn't have to hope, and we shouldn't have to live with a campaign finance system already corroded by Citizens United and other harmful court decisions. That McCutcheon is even being considered by the court highlights the imperative of a constitutional amendment to protect our democracy."

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).

In McCutcheon, the Republican National Committee and the individual donor involved in the case, Alabaman Shaun McCutcheon, take issue with aggregate contribution limits.

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

"The Supreme Court may be poised in the McCutcheon case to follow its disastrous Citizens United decision and issue a new ruling which further allows big money interests to dominate our political process and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens," John Bonifaz, co-founder and executive director of Free Speech For People, said Wednesday.

"If it does that, it will only provide added proof that we the people must overrule the court with a constitutional amendment to reclaim our democracy."

To date, 16 states and more than 500 cities and towns have gone on record in support of amending the Constitution.

Also, 14 federal amendments have been proposed in the 113th Congress.

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

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