BRADENTON – In the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down overall limits on campaign contributions, leaving in place only a cap on donations to a single candidate. In a 5-4 vote on Wednesday, the court ruled that individuals have a right to give the legal maximum to Congressional and Presidential candidates, as well as to parties and PACs, without worrying that they will violate the law if they go over a limit on all contributions, set at $123,200, which includes a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates. The decision does not impact the $2,600 limits on individual contributions to candidates for President or Congress.
Chief Justice John Roberts announced the decision, a split vote between the court's liberal and conservative justices. Roberts said the total limits do not act to prevent corruption, as the court had previously upheld as justification for contribution caps, saying they "intrude without justification on a citizen's ability to exercise `the most fundamental First Amendment activities'," a quote from the court's 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately, saying he would have gone even further and wiped away all contribution limits.
Congress enacted the limits as a response to Watergate-era abuses, as a way to restore public confidence in the campaign finance system. However, the Roberts Court has struck down provisions of federal law aimed at limiting the influence of big donors in a series of recent rulings that decided they were unconstitutional limits on free speech.
The most famous of those rulings was 2010's Citizens United case (also 5-4), which ruled that corporations were protected as people under the Constitution and could spend as much as they wanted to on campaigning, provided it is independent of individual candidates' campaigns (Political Action Committees cannot "coordinate" with the official campaign of a candidate).
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