Aggregate campaign contribution limits do not prevent corruption, Supreme Court rules

By David Yates | Apr 2, 2014

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Citing corruption as a non-issue, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down overall campaign contribution limits.

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Citing corruption as a non-issue, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down overall campaign contribution limits.

In the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission, the court's conservative justices banded together in a 5-4 vote, ruling that donors, under the First Amendment, have the right to give the legal maximum to as many federal candidates and political committees as they see fit.

Donation limits to a single candidate still stand, meaning the ruling solely focused on aggregate amounts.

"This case does not involve any challenge to the base limits, which we have previously upheld as serving the permissible objective of combatting corruption," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote.

"The Government contends that the aggregate limits also serve that objective, by preventing circumvention of the base limits. We conclude however, that the aggregate limits do little, if anything, to address that concern, while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process. The aggregate limits are therefore invalid under the First Amendment."

For the 2013-2014 biennial limit, the aggregate total is capped at $123,000. The limit includes up to $48,600 in contributions to candidate committees, according to the Federal Ethics Commission.

"Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects," Roberts wrote.

"If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades - despite the profound offense such spectacles cause - it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition."

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito joined Roberts. Thomas issued a concurring opinion.

Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, warning that if "enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard."

The case stems from a challenge brought by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon against the FEC.

Joined by the Republican National Committee, McCutcheon and the RNC questioned whether aggregate limits on the total amount that an individual may contribute to all federal candidates and political committees during a two-year federal election cycle violate the First Amendment, appellate briefs state.

The RNC believes the court's decision is only a first step.

"Today's court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

"I am proud that the RNC led the way in bringing this case and pleased that the court agreed that limits on how many candidates or committees a person may support unconstitutionally burden core First Amendment political activities. When free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger."

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