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Last Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court voted to strike down the aggregate limit on individual campaign contributions by a 5-4 margin in the McCutcheon vs. FEC case.
Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, donated to fifteen different candidates last election cycle but was unable to contribute to more due to an overall donation cap of $48,600 per cycle. By citing the Citizens United case the court ruled on in 2010, this overall donation cap has been eliminated on the grounds that it violates individual’s first amendment rights to free speech. While there are still limits on the amount of money an individual can donate to each candidate ($5,200), party committee ($32,400), and political action committee ($5,000), the number of these entities individuals may donate to is now unlimited.
Click here for an in-depth breakdown of the changes from the Washington Post.
The decision has received criticism from Americans who believe it will allow for a small group of individuals to wield significant influence over the country’s democratic process. Last election cycle, McCutcheon was one of only 591 individuals that gave the maximum amount of money permitted by law. With the limit on the amount of donations lifted, these individuals will now be able to spend more money supporting candidates and political parties. This ability will most likely lead to an increase in political corruption and favoritism in the United States’ political process.
McCutcheon’s argument that limiting the amount of money individuals are allowed to donate to political campaigns violates the first amendment’s protection of speech is a reach at best. If anything, it is a violation of individuals’ economic liberty. Some people are calling for major campaign finance reform including the Green Party which released a statement calling to eliminate private campaign donations in favor of public campaign financing. While this may be an extreme measure, a more suitable solution to the McCutcheon case would be making campaign contributions more transparent. After all, the first amendment is meant to protect speech made in a public forum, not behind closed doors. If voters had easier access to all campaign donation information for candidates before voting, then they would be able to make more informed decisions about whom to vote for.
There is no doubt that this decision will further polarize the political and economic climate in the country. The 2012 Presidential campaigns didn't touch on the subject of campaign finance reform. With issues like affordable health care, domestic surveillance, foreign policy, and the economy, it will be interesting to see if candidates touch on on it during the upcoming election cycle.