Next Citizens United? McCutcheon Supreme Court Case Targets Campaign Contribution Limits

July 31, 2013 | | Huffington Post |

The next big campaign finance case to go before the Supreme Court began in February 2012 in the grand ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel during the "Ronald Reagan Banquet" at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Alabama electrical engineer and budding political donor Shaun McCutcheon broached a problem in conversation with conservative election lawyer Dan Backer, who one day earlier had led a CPAC panel on rolling back campaign finance laws in which he predicted that campaign contribution limits would soon rise.

McCutcheon had recently learned there were overall federal campaign contribution limits on what a single donor could give during a two-year election cycle. He voiced his annoyance to Backer and wondered if he could just ignore the aggregate limits -- something that a few dozen donors wound up doing, whether deliberately or inadvertently, in the 2012 election.

"He could tell I didn't like 'em, so he said we could challenge and it would go all the way to the Supreme Court," McCutcheon recalled in an interview with The Huffington Post. "I didn't really believe him."

A little more than a year later, McCutcheon, now joined by the Republican National Committee, is bringing the biggest campaign finance case before the Supreme Court since the controversial 2010 Citizens United decision. If the justices rule in their next term to toss the overall limits, it would mark the first time the Supreme Court had found a federal contribution limit unconstitutional and would open the door for even more money to flood the political system. [...]

"This is a case about how to spend your money how you choose, and it's a very important First Amendment case about freedom of speech," McCutcheon said. "We should be able to support as many candidates as we want. There's no reason to limit the number of candidates or committees."

Supporters of stronger campaign finance oversight disagree strongly. They say that campaign contribution limits being up for debate is a sign of how successful the counter-reformers have already been and how unfriendly the current Supreme Court is to campaign finance regulation.

"The fact that they are setting their sights on even this most basic feature of campaign regulation just shows how far the conversation has shifted on campaign finance," said Brenda Wright, vice president for legal strategies at Demos and the lead author of an amicus brief opposing McCutcheon. "And it's really important for the court not to take that next step. The court really needs to put a stop to the damage that's been done to our campaign finance regulations."

In a string of amici briefs filed with the Supreme Court on July 25, campaign reform advocates argue that the elimination of the aggregate limits would open the door for candidates to solicit checks of over $1 million through joint fundraising committees and undermine the individual contribution limits by allowing donations to be shifted among an unlimited number of candidates and PACs.

Read the briefAmicus Brief to the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC