Political Campaign Donations Are Now Considered Free Speech
by Clifford Michel
On Wednesday April 2 the Supreme Court made a final decision in the controversial McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case. The court ruled in a split 5-to-4 vote to expand the maximum amount an individual can directly donate to political candidates and committees.
Previously, federal laws capped the amount of money any one person can donate during a two-year election cycle at $123,200. The final decision now allows a single person to donate $3.6 million in an election cycle.
The decision was made on the grounds that limiting the amount of campaign donations one can give out is equivalent to limiting an individual’s First Amendment rights.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. argued for the controlling opinion, stating that, “there is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders. Citizens can exercise that right in a variety of ways. They can run for office themselves, vote, urge others to vote for a particular candidate, volunteer to work on a campaign, and contribute to a candidate’s campaign. This case is about the last of those options.”
The conservatives of the court disagreed that a possibility in the increase of influence in the political process, spurred by massive campaign donations, does not trump limiting an individual’s First Amendment right.
“Many people might find those latter objectives attractive. They would be delighted to see fewer television commercials touting a candidate’s accomplishments or disparaging an opponent’s character. Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades -despite the profound offense such spectacles cause- it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition,” Roberts continued.
In an extremely rare occurrence, which hinted at the polarized state of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer was joined by Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor as he read his 30-page dissent from the bench.
“[The majority’s] conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve,” said Breyer.
Roberts insisted that the points brought up in the dissertation were represented in his ruling and added that Breyer’s points were speculative. He concluded that it would be up to Congress to address any loopholes.
The ruling was reminiscent of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a decision that did away with limits on campaign spending by corporations and unions. The ruling showed its influence in the 2012 election, where both the Democratic and Republican party raised over $4 billion, making it the most expensive election to date.
Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, presented the case along with the Republican National Committee in 2013. McCutcheon wished to donate $21,312 dollars to twelve different politicians during the 2012 elections but was stopped on the premise that he reached the maximum amount an individual could donate. The RNC wished to receive contributions that were greater than the legal limit for committees to receive.