WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the aggregate campaign contribution limits, thereby opening the door to even more money in the political system.
The 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was penned by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia. The decision relies heavily on the assertion in the 2010 Citizens United ruling that influence and access are not a corruption concern.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate opinion that agreed to strike the aggregate limits, but also called for an end to the entire campaign finance reform system.
The victory for the Alabama businessman and major Republican Party donor Shaun McCutcheon, who was joined by the Republican National Committee in his challenge, means that a single donor will soon be able to contribute millions of hard dollars -- in limited contributions -- to political parties, candidates and political action committees.
"With the ruling, we continue to chip away at the long entrenched status quo from the grassroots -- a status quo that has kept challengers, better ideas, and new entrants to the political arena mostly locked out," McCutcheon said in a statement. "Ensuring that citizens are able to contribute to multiple candidates or causes who share their views only provides further support to a system in which 'We the People' hold the ultimate reins of power."
Campaign finance reform proponents were not so pleased.
"With its decision today in McCutcheon, the Supreme Court majority continued on its march to destroy the nation's campaign finance laws, which were enacted to prevent corruption and protect the integrity of our democracy," Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer said in a statement.
Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement, "This is truly a decision establishing plutocrat rights. The Supreme Court today holds that the purported right of a few hundred superrich individuals to spend outrageously large sums on campaign contributions outweighs the national interest in political equality and a government free of corruption."
Indeed, a single donor can now give more than $5 million in individually limited contributions to every House candidate, every Senate candidate, every state party committee, every national party committee and every leadership PAC connected to one political party.
For the 2013-2014 election cycle, Federal Election Commission rules state that a donor can give no more than $123,200 to all political committees, with two sub-limits of $48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to political parties and political action committees. Those limits are no more.
This will immeasurably help the Republican Party, which relies far more on large campaign donors who give the maximum campaign contributions. In the past year, Republican congressional political party committees have struggled to raise funds, as compared to their Democratic counterparts and the RNC. The court's decision now frees donors to make contributions of $32,400 to all three party committees every year.
"What I think this means is freedom of speech is being upheld," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters on Capitol Hill in response to the ruling. "Donors ought to have the freedom to give what they want to give.
"All this goes back to this bizarre McCain-Feingold bill that was passed that has distorted the political process in ways that no one who voted for it ever believed in. Some of us understood what was going to happen. It's pushing all this money outside the party structure into all these other various forms.
"I'm all for freedom. Congratulations."
Roberts makes clear in his opinion that the ruling and the case brought before the court in no way challenges the base contribution limits, which currently limit individual contributions to $2,600 per candidate, per election; to $32,400 to political party committees per year; and to $5,000 per PAC, per year.
A lawyer representing Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had argued during the case that McCutcheon's challenge should extend to these base limits, and that candidates and parties should be allowed to raise unlimited funds. The justices, particularly Roberts, were skeptical of this during arguments.
The dissent was penned by Justice Stephen Breyer and joined by Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Read the decision here:
Michael McAuliff contributed reporting.
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