In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and in 2012 upheld that ruling. Those actions unleashed a flood of corporation and union-sponsored fundraising activities.
Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the court today said the caps violated the speech rights of Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican official seeking to give candidates, parties and political committees more than the $123,200 maximum.
The court stopped short of undercutting a 1976 ruling that allows caps on contributions to individual candidates. For instance, donors will still be limited to giving $2,600 to a federal candidate for each election.
The loosening of campaign-finance restrictions has become a hallmark of the court under Roberts. The Citizens United ruling helped fuel an explosion of campaign spending, with spending from candidates, parties and outside groups topping $6 billion in 2012. Today’s ruling may affect November’s congressional elections, as Republicans seek to take control of the Senate.
Though today’s ruling isn’t likely to approach the effect of Citizens United, it will give more freedom to wealthy donors looking to use their money to make a political impact.
Taken together with Citizens United, the decision “eviscerates our nation’s campaign-finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent.
Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia joined Roberts in the majority, with Thomas saying in a separate opinion that he would have gone further and overturned the 1976 ruling. Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented alongside Breyer.
The aggregate limits included a cap of $48,600 to federal candidates and $74,600 to political parties and political action committees during each two-year election cycle.
Those restrictions, which date to 1974, were designed to supplement better-known restraints known as base limits. Under those, donors can contribute a maximum of $2,600 to particular candidates per election, $5,000 per year to individual PACs and $32,400 per year to each national party committee. The limits are indexed for inflation and increase every election cycle.
The 2010 Citizens United ruling allowed unlimited corporate and union spending. The latest case focused on contributions, rather than spending. It raises questions about a landmark 1976 ruling, Buckley v. Valeo, which said the government had broad latitude to limit contributions to guard against corruption.
The Obama administration defended the aggregate caps, which the Supreme Court in Buckley said prevent “evasion” of the base limits. A three-judge panel used similar reasoning to uphold the caps last year.
The administration said that, without the caps, donors might be able to give large sums to a variety of candidates and political committees, anticipating that the money would be spent in support of a single favored candidate. Breyer said a wealthy donor could give $3.6 million to his political party and its candidates over a two-year election cycle.
Roberts dismissed that concern. “Experience suggests that the vast majority of contributions made in excess of the aggregate limits are likely to be retained and spent by their recipients rather than rerouted to candidates,” he wrote.
Expect More Divisive Politics
These rulings will result in more extreme candidates on both sides of the aisle, essentially the worst candidates money can buy.
Unions and union advocates will promote extreme-left candidates while the war-mongers and the religious wrong will promote their brand of politics.
Expect "litmus" tests from each party when doling out campaign funds. Those in the middle will find fewer and fewer candidates to chose from.