Once again the Supreme Court has delivered a devastating blow to our democratic rights by striking down any limitations on campaign contributions. In effect, the 5 to 4 McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision last week was an extension of Citizens United v. FEC case in 2010, which was more about spending limits. Even so, there is a dramatic difference between the two decisions.
In the Citizens United decision, only large corporations and labor unions were allowed to spend as much as they wanted to outside groups, but now it’s a new ball game.
The recent decision was for a case brought by Shaun McCutcheon of Alabama. McCutcheon, a Republican activist, was joined in his challenge by the Republican Party and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. At the core of the challenge were the limits imposed on contributors in a two-year federal election cycle. The ruling gives McCutcheon and other Americans the right to contribute the legal mandated maximum amount to presidential and congressional candidates, political parties and political action committees without the fear of violating the overall limit on total contributions, which for 2013 and 2014 is a little over $123,000.
McCutcheon charged that the limit on contributions deprived him of his First Amendment right to give $1,776 each to a dozen more candidates, the same amount he had already given to 16 others.
Still in place, however, is the cap on donations to an individual candidate for president and Congress, which is fixed at $2,600 per election.
Put simply, as we did in last week’s editorial, those with deep pockets, the super rich and the heavy spenders will be given unlimited financial clout and thereby influence the outcome of elections like never before.
Rep. Charles Rangel and other Democrats denounced the decision, viewing it as an end to campaign finance regulation. They contend that while the Citizens United case opened the door on this issue, the McCutcheon case brings a floodgate. Now, those with the means can donate more than $3 million in a two-year election cycle.
When the Supreme Court eviscerated the guts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and sent the affirmative action case to a lower court, the handwriting was clearly on the wall that more setbacks were in the pipe.
According to Chief Justice John Roberts, the overall limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise the most fundamental First Amendment activities,” which put him and four other justices in complete agreement with McCutcheon. While Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the ruling, he wrote a separate opinion stating that he would have gone even further and eliminated all contribution limits.
As we watch the gradual erosion of the civil rights laws in which so many died to obtain, now there seems to be a concerted move on part of the Supreme Court and the Republican Party to erase other gains that made it difficult for the rich to purchase votes.
Even here in the state of New York in the aftermath of the recent budget, we witnessed how lawmakers rejected the governor’s proposal to strengthen campaign fundraising laws. Like the GOP at large, the state’s contingent refused to allow lower limits on campaign contributions or close the loopholes that permit huge contributions.
The loopholes persist locally and nationally, and now they are augmented by wider and wider floodgates.