If you think we need more money influencing politics in America, then today could be a great day for you.
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments this morning in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case challenging the overall limits an individual can donate to political action committees, candidates and parties in a two-year federal election cycle.
Under current law, a person can give up to $46,200 for federal candidates and $70,800 for parties and independent committees during the election cycle. With the support of the Republican National Committee, Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy conservative donor from Alabama, is challenging the limits, arguing that they’re “unsupported by any cognizable government interest.”
The outcome is considered critical to the future of campaign finance, with many calling it Citizens United 2.0, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizen United v. FEC allowing corporations to give political candidates unlimited funds.
A “bad sequel”
In a phone call yesterday the advocacy group Common Cause called the case a “bad sequel” to Citizens United, which paved the way for the most expensive election in history and a flood of negative ads (those of you in swing states will remember how miserable watching TV was last fall).
“If the Court sides with the plaintiff in McCutcheon v. FEC and overturns aggregate contribution limits, a single individual could spend as much as $3.6 million on a single election, enough to buy the attention of the president and every single member of Congress,” Common Cause said.
New research by Demos predicted that if the court rules in favor of McCutcheon, more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from a group of elite donors would be added through the 2020 election cycle.
McCutcheon first discussed the idea of a lawsuit with a conservative election lawyer at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, according to a report by The Huffington Post. Since then, he has partnered with the Republican National Committee. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also joining the suit as an outside party and will have his own set of lawyers arguing before the Court. In fact, McConnell is scheduled to address the court today, having been granted ten minutes of the hour-long argument. McConnell has his own agenda hoping the court will agree to scrap all contribution caps and allow candidates to accept unlimited donations.
For his part, McCutcheon — founder and CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, an engineering firm that specializes in the mining industry — wrote in a Politico editorial that ending the limits will not corrupt our democracy but instead is concerned with “practicing democracy and being free.”
For the majority of Americans who don’t have the deep pockets that wealthy donors do, the practice of allowing corporations and individuals to give copious amounts of money to candidates sounds exactly like a corruption of democracy.
That’s why groups like Common Cause will be protesting outside the court today reminding the judges that in a democracy “influence ought to be measured by the merit of ideas – not the size of someone’s bank account.” They’re also calling on the court to overturn the Citizen United v. FEC decision.