Court invalidates aggregate limits on federal contributions

Washington – The Supreme Court Wednesday struck down an aggregate limit of $123,200 in contributions that an individual can make to federal candidates, parties and political action committees each campaign cycle.

Joshua Foley, a staff attorney for the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said the commission was evaluating the decision, McCutcheon v. FEC,  to determine if it invalidated a similar $30,000 aggregate limit Connecticut has on an individual’s donations in state elections.

It was unclear, however, if any political donor had ever bumped against the state aggregate limit, the existence of which does not appear to be widely known.

The court's ruling lifts an aggregate limit of $48,600 to federal candidates, but it leaves intact a limit on individual contributions at $2,600 per election. In Connecticut, a state nominating convention, primary and general election each are considered an election, allowing three $2,600 contribution, or $7,800, to a congressional candidate.

The decision means there will be no limit on how many candidate campaigns, party committees or PACs an individual can contribute to. The $32,200 limit on donations to a party campaign remains, however, as does the $5,000 limit to political action committees.

"The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combating corruption and its appearance," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the 5-4 decision. “We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government's efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them."

The case was brought by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon who challenged why he could not donate more than $48,600 to individual candidates each election cycle and more than $32,200 to political party organizations.

The ruling split along ideological lines. Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the majority, but wrote in a separate opinion that the high court should have abolished all contributions limits.

Many Democrats decried the ruling, in part because Republicans are more likely to be supported by wealthy donors.

“Today, the Supreme Court again moved to hand our elections to the wealthiest among us by allowing political donors the ability to offer the maximum contribution to an unlimited number of federal campaigns,” said Rep. John Larson, D-1st District.

Larson, the House Democrats’ point man on campaign finance reform, said he would introduce new legislation Wednesday “to fully reverse this latest Supreme Court blunder and reinstate restrictions vital to our electoral process on special interests.”

Larson’s legislation is unlikely to go far in the GOP-dominated House.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, the chief fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, “We need less money in our politics, not more.”

“This decision from a slim five-member majority of the court threatens to set our democracy back,” Himes said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the decision an “unfortunate and misguided war on democracy."

Campaign finance reform groups also decried the ruling, which will have the greatest impact on the nation’s campaign finance system since the Citizens United decision gave birth to the Super PACs.

"Today’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC is Citizens United round two, further opening the floodgates for the nation’s wealthiest few to drown out the voices of the rest of us," said Miles Rapoport, the former Connecticut secretary of the state who recently became president of Common Cause.

The decision also could jeopardize separate contribution caps in at least a dozen states besides Connecticut, from Arizona to Wyoming.

About Ana Radelat

Ana is a longtime Washington correspondent who has won numerous awards, including from The Associated Press and Gannett, has written for more than a dozen newspapers, including USAToday; The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger; the Shreveport (La.) Times; and the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser. She’s also been a regular contributor to other publications, including the Miami Herald and Advertising Age. Some of the stories Ana has broken focused on the strategies of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former Sen. Trent Lott’s fall from power and questionable Hurricane Katrina contracts. A regular contributor to WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio, a partner of The Mirror, Ana is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism. E-mail her at aradelat@ctmirror.org.

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