SCOTUS to take first campaign finance case since Citizens United

posted at 9:31 pm on February 19, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham

Get ready for the caterwauling over the terrible dangers of not letting the federal government regulate free political speech if the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiff on this case:

Three years since the landmark Citizens United decision that dramatically changed campaign finance laws, the Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will take up another campaign finance case challenging how much donors can give to campaigns and committees.

The court will hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which deals with the constitutionality of aggregate contribution limits, in October. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama resident, contributed a total of $33,088 to 16 candidates during the 2012 election cycle and thousands more to party committees. He wanted his contributions for the cycle to total $75,000 to party committees and $54,400 to candidates but was barred from giving at that level by federal aggregate limits.

The Republican National Committee and McCutcheon challenged the FEC’s contribution limits under the First Amendment, saying the $46,200 aggregate limit for candidates and $70,800 limit for committees was “unsupported by any cognizable government interest … at any level of review.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the limits.

Those limits are already being partially circumvented by donating to PACs in unlimited amounts, because regulating political speech is actually pretty hard to do, and Americans rather value their right to it.

“The ability to get around it does undermine the case for limits,” Hasen said. “But the case could have broader implications. It will be the first time since Citizens United that the court decides how to judge campaign finance laws.”

In a blog post on the issue, Hasen also signaled that the case could open the door for abolishing all contribution limits. “It is possible in this case, for example, that the conservative five justices in [Citizens United] set out a general standard for reviewing contribution limits which makes them harder to sustain against constitutional challenge.”

Former FEC Commissioner, and one of about 12 people who fully understand the nation’s labyrinthine limits on political speech, previewed this case in the WSJ this week. First, a reality check on the effects of Citizens United:

The Roberts court has been chopping away at the thicket of campaign-finance rules on a case-by-case basis—including ending a ban on broadcast “issue” ads that mention a candidate within 60 days of an election (Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC, 2007), and limiting the ability of states to subsidize candidates in an effort to “equalize” spending (Arizona Free Enterprise Club PAC v. FEC, 2012). Most famously, in Citizens United, the court upheld the right of corporations to make political expenditures (though not to contribute to candidates’ campaigns).

With these rulings, despite alarmist warnings about their consequences, voter turnout has increased, more races have been competitive, presidential nominating contests have not ended with the New Hampshire primary, and the electorate has had one of the most sustained debates about the role of government that it has had in years.

And, the downlow on McCutcheon:

The 2003 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act capped the amounts that national political parties can accept in contributions from any one person. The act also made it almost impossible for state and local parties to assist candidates for federal office. The result? More and more political money has gone to “social welfare” groups such as Planned Parenthood, trade groups such as the National Association of Realtors, or Super PACS such as the Pro-Obama Priorities USA Action (Super PACS can accept contributions from any source and make unlimited expenditures but not contribute directly to parties or candidates.) But why should political parties be subject to restrictions that other groups of people trying to elect candidates are not?

In McCutcheon v. FEC, plaintiffs Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee argue that McCain-Feingold’s limits on giving to national political parties, and the overall limit on how much an individual can contribute to all political committees and campaigns (now $123,200), are unconstitutional. If the plaintiffs prevail, political parties would be better able to compete with Super PACS for campaign dollars, and large donors could contribute more to parties when they prefer to do so.

The Sunlight Foundation, which is one of the caterwaulers about the dangers of unregulated political speech, presents a worst-case scenario if this limit is struck down:

If the Supreme Court strikes down the aggregate limit, an individual like McCutcheon could, if he desired, donate $2,600 to the primary and general election campaigns of every incumbent House member ($2,262,000) and every member of the Senate ($520,000). The same donor could give all six national party committees the maximum donation in 2013 and 2014 ($388,800). That adds up to more than $3.1 million and doesn’t include contributions to state party committees and PACs.

Meh. Bill Maher gave $1 million in one shot to Obama’s Super PAC in 2012. I don’t care if he gives it to the DNC and every liberal candidate for House. And, federal campaign finance laws more often hamstring or scare off newcomers and smaller, independent actors from politics by setting up a system that’s easier for incumbents to navigate— a system created by incumbents. (Hmm, I wonder if there’s something to that.)

Regulating our most prized speech has proven to be ineffective, arbitrary, and it criminalizes (and no doubt ices) run-of-the-mill free speech. (It also has its roots in the racist crusade of South Carolina’s Sen. Ben Tillman, who sponsored the first federal campaign finance law, but today’s activists prefer not to grapple with that legacy, nor are they ever asked to.) The threshold should be pretty damn high for placing limits on it. The icky feeling campaign finance activists get from the idea of more than $2,600 isn’t enough.

Another reality check: 2012 was the most expensive campaign year in history, clocking in at $7 billion, according to the FEC.

There was a lot of hand-wringing over that number when the FEC announced the stat, with this bit from Politico typical: “The total number of dollars spent on the 2012 election exceeded the number of people on this planet.”

$7 billion would run the federal government for about 16 hours. The 2012 campaign was a garage sale value by comparison. We never hear any hand-wringing about that number.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

First!

powerpickle on February 19, 2013 at 9:33 PM

$7 billion would run the federal government for about 16 hours.

Talk about Green Energy…

The Government spends more then God did….

OK..

Obama is to blame…

Electrongod on February 19, 2013 at 9:34 PM

First!

powerpickle on February 19, 2013 at 9:33 PM

I will give that..

But you need more substance….:)

Electrongod on February 19, 2013 at 9:35 PM

Don’t let Bishop catch you ;-P

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 9:35 PM

Good evening EG!

Ok, another aspect of politics I just don’t ‘get’. I shall read and hopefully be informed by HA commenters comments!

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 9:37 PM

Ok, another aspect of politics I just don’t ‘get’. I shall read and hopefully be informed by HA commenters comments!

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 9:37 PM

I was following you…:)

No..

It’s in my heart…

Let’s see where this leads….

I am curious myself..

Electrongod on February 19, 2013 at 9:41 PM

I am confused really.

Will this be a good idea or a bad one?

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 9:45 PM

Say isn’t that about what the US spends on hamburgers per year? Including the White Castle ones…

ajacksonian on February 19, 2013 at 9:49 PM

Unless they open up the QOTD pretty quick, I can sense a Scrumpy overload. And we ain’t gonna be able to stop her. ;-)

tommy71 on February 19, 2013 at 9:50 PM

tommy71 on February 19, 2013 at 9:50 PM

Lmao…uh huh Uncle Tommy!!

I’ll see you there no doubt!

If I am not mistaken wasn’t this up yesterday? Or earlier today?

It seems vaguely familiar, or is it de ja vu!

Bomp bomp boomp!!

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 9:52 PM

Oh well, think I’ll go wait in the lobby…

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 9:55 PM

I thought getting money out of the hands of rich people are corporations was the aim of life?

Let me know when light is shone upon “foundations”, really for anything, but specifically, activism (all forms).

John Kettlewell on February 19, 2013 at 9:57 PM

rich people are and corporations

fixed =/

John Kettlewell on February 19, 2013 at 9:58 PM

In the beginning only people who were invested in the nation were allowed to vote. Land owners, business owners and people who paid the few taxes that were levied. Effectively the producers which grew the nation were allowed to determine where their money went through thier votes.
Now everyone gets a vote. No need to be invested in the nation, hell in many cases you do not even seem to need to be a citizen… I kind of see how they had wisdom back in those days.
Funny thing though, not only are producers and invested people marginalized by having their votes diluted and put up against the parasite class, they are also prevented from using their produced wealth in order to fund politicians.
No wonder this nation is going to hell.

astonerii on February 19, 2013 at 10:00 PM

Jeez Scrums, stop calling me Uncle, lass. :-)

tommy71 on February 19, 2013 at 10:02 PM

Why should the current admin be the only ones allowed to buy votes?

OldEnglish on February 19, 2013 at 10:02 PM

Personally, I’m not against anyone donating money to a candidate, what I’m against is all the hidden donations that go to PAC’s with all the great sounding names.

After the Obamacare ruling, God only knows what they’ll rule in this case. Has Obama threatened them, like he has the Republicans? We’ll find out.

bflat879 on February 19, 2013 at 10:03 PM

Oh well, think I’ll go wait in the lobby…

Scrumpy
on February 19, 2013 at 9:55 PM

.
Ohhh NO you don’t !

You get back here and work with the same ‘disadvantage’ the rest of us do.

listens2glenn on February 19, 2013 at 10:04 PM

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 9:55 PM

…I like poems!…not PACS!

KOOLAID2 on February 19, 2013 at 10:05 PM

Personally, I’m not against anyone donating money to a candidate, what I’m against is all the hidden donations that go to PAC’s with all the great sounding names.

After the Obamacare ruling, God only knows what they’ll rule in this case. Has Obama threatened them, like he has the Republicans? We’ll find out.

bflat879 on February 19, 2013 at 10:03 PM

We have a secret ballot in order to allow citizens to support the candidate of their choice with as little coercion as possible. Making public the information of your donations brings back the potential of coercion. Do not believe me? Just ask the people in California who donated to support marriage in California.
Conservatives have internal barriers to attacking others for their views, progressives have no such aversion.

astonerii on February 19, 2013 at 10:07 PM

listens2glenn on February 19, 2013 at 10:04 PM

*swoosh* ;-)

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:07 PM

astonerii on February 19, 2013 at 10:07 PM

Do you mean ‘gay’ marriages…

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:09 PM

No wonder this nation is going to hell.

astonerii on February 19, 2013 at 10:00 PM

going?

chemman on February 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM

Do you mean ‘gay’ marriages…

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:09 PM

The people who were attacked, bullied and threatened were on the side of traditional marriage.

astonerii on February 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM

Conservatives have internal barriers to attacking others for their views, progressives have no such aversion.

So true Asteronii

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM

astonerii on February 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM

Thank you!! My mind isn’t as clear as usual, sorry…

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:14 PM

I think you should be able to give as much money as you want to whomever you want.

When they fix voter fraud – like the lady in Ohio who voted 6 times then they can come talk to me about campaign finance reform.

gophergirl on February 19, 2013 at 10:18 PM

Meh…

… But this looks interesting. What happened?

“Orly Taitz ~ U.S. Supreme Court Grants Expedited Decision On Obama Fraud For Tuesday February 19, 2013″

Seven Percent Solution on February 19, 2013 at 10:19 PM

gophergirl on February 19, 2013 at 10:18 PM

Her being able to go on tv and BRAG about what she did, just shows you how wrong things are going in this country… why hasn’t she been arrested?

Appalling!

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:22 PM

I hope that Mr. McCutcheon and the RNC wins. Instead of unsavoury Super PACs, it would be better to give directly to the candidate and their official fundraising organizations, without putting a $ limit on it. Theres more accountability that way.

tommy71 on February 19, 2013 at 10:25 PM

Seven Percent Solution on February 19, 2013 at 10:19 PM

WOW!!!! Wonder how this is gonna turn out?

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:26 PM

Her being able to go on tv and BRAG about what she did, just shows you how wrong things are going in this country… why hasn’t she been arrested?

Appalling!

Scrumpy on February 19, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Her reasoning for voting that many times is jaw dropping. She thinks what she did is okay.

That is what we are up against.

gophergirl on February 19, 2013 at 10:31 PM

We never hear any hand-wringing about that number.

except if/when they want to start taxing and regulating garage sales, right?

ted c on February 19, 2013 at 10:38 PM

Congress passed these laws. We are not here to interpret or apply the constitution. We are not here to save the people from the tyranny of their elected officials or of the majority. We hereby reverse Marbury and the Magna Carta.

/John Roberts

besser tot als rot on February 19, 2013 at 11:50 PM

We don’t need more restrictions on citizens advancing their interests; we need more restrictions on politicians advancing theirs.

cthulhu on February 20, 2013 at 3:59 AM

I want all donations (in the aggregate for a candidate per election) under $5,000 to be anonymous. I want to see an end to public reporting of donations.

Do you really want the “death panel” looking up your political donations on opensecrets.org before deciding your medical treatment fate?

crosspatch on February 20, 2013 at 4:08 AM

Brave, Brave Sir Roberts needs to know if Obama and his state-run media might say something mean about him if he votes the wrong way.

After all, we have to assume federal laws are constitutional and then twist ourselves into knots to allow govt to do whatever it wants, don’t we?

DRayRaven on February 20, 2013 at 6:21 AM

Roberts will cave.

SAMinVA on February 20, 2013 at 7:51 AM

Another reality check: 2012 was the most expensive campaign year in history, clocking in at $7 billion, according to the FEC.

There was a lot of hand-wringing over that number when the FEC announced the stat, with this bit from Politico typical: “The total number of dollars spent on the 2012 election exceeded the number of people on this planet.”

$7 billion would run the federal government for about 16 hours. The 2012 campaign was a garage sale value by comparison. We never hear any hand-wringing about that number.

Bingo!!

Bitter Clinger on February 20, 2013 at 7:59 AM