New Data Shows Billion Dollar Impact of Striking Aggregate Contribution Limits in McCutcheon v. FEC

Release Date: 
October 4, 2013

NEW YORK, NY – As the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral argument in the McCutcheon v. FEC case, national public policy center Demos has partnered with U.S. PIRG to release new data quantifying the potential dollar impact of striking down federal aggregate contribution limits. 

Demos and U.S. PIRG project that striking aggregate contribution limits would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from a small segment of elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.

This figure does not represent a sea change when compared with existing spending levels, but it shows that striking limits would significantly strengthen the power of a tiny number of elite donors compared with small contributors.

Should the Roberts Court toss aside settled precedent and strike the total cap on contributions from wealthy donors, it will only increase the power and undue influence of a tiny cadre of millionaires and billionaires

“Should the Roberts Court toss aside settled precedent and strike the total cap on contributions from wealthy donors, it will only increase the power and undue influence of a tiny cadre of millionaires and billionaires,” said Adam Lioz, counsel at Demos and co-author of the brief. 

The brief defines elite donors as those who gave (or are projected to give) at, over or within 10% of the aggregate contribution limit. In the 2012 election, 1,219 elite donors contributed $155.2 million to candidates, parties and PACs.  Demos and U.S. PIRG estimate that the same group would have given $459.3 million were aggregate contribution limits not in place.  That is nearly 50% more than the total amount that President Obama and Governor Romney raised in small contributions from more than 4 million people.

“The increasing power of these few elite donors is fueling public distrust in government,” said Blair Bowie, Democracy Advocate at U.S. PIRG and co-author of the brief. “We already have record-low confidence in government, and the new data shows that striking aggregate limits in McCutcheon will only make matters worse.”

Demos and its partners on the McCutcheon v FEC amicus brief, including the leaders of some of America’s oldest and largest constituency groups, came together this morning to talk about people, public policy, and the power of money on government. This unprecedented coalition includes the four principal conveners of the Democracy Initiative (Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace, NAACP, Sierra Club) as well as organizations that represent small businesses (Main Street Alliance), young people (OurTime.org, Rock the Vote), working families (American Federation of Teachers, Working Families Organization), and the public interest (People For the American Way Foundation, U.S. PIRG). 

Highlights from the call include:

  • Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America: “The Supreme Court continues to confuse the difference between money and speech, and continues to say that money equals speech. From the point of view of working families, what this leads to is a total passivity when it comes to elections and the feeling that what they say and do makes no difference."
  • Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club: “This case is important to the Sierra Club and to everyone in this country who wants a democracy that actually works. We’ve seen Congress take more than 300 votes attacking clean air and clean water. We've seen polluter-backed groups pump more than $270 million into political ads in just the last two months of the election. We've seen that the people who are trying to poison our democracy are the same people who are trying to poison our air and poison our water, and we're fighting them every day. Now we're fighting them at the Supreme Court because who wants to overturn existing limits and write those million dollar checks? That would be Shaun McCutcheon, the CEO of a coal company in Alabama. Mr. McCutcheon is a climate change denier. He's already spent thousands of dollars on politicians who want to gut the safeguards that keep the toxic pollution from coal plants out of our air and out of water, but he'd like to spend millions of dollars. So he's suing the federal government. "
  • Phil Radford, Executive Director, Greenpeace: “It's no secret to our supporters at Greenpeace or the Sierra Club's supporters or any American, that this legalized system of corruption through money in politics is a direct cause of the fact that very few major environmental laws have passed in this country since 1980 even though the American public demands clean air, clean water, and action on climate change."
  • Kim Keenan, General Counsel, NAACP: "At the NAACP, voting and campaign finance are really the core, important civil rights issues. In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will consider striking one of the few remaining campaign finance laws designed to combat corruption. Simply put, buying a democracy is the second prong of a two prong attack on voter participation against regular people in America. When did we become this America? Allowing unregulated monetary contributions into our political system will further erode the role of the individual in sustaining our democracy. We must have common sense rules for money in politics to protect the right of ordinary citizens to bring their interests before their elected representatives and to have their voices heard. We know that a political system operating with this kind of inequality is unjust."
  • Matthew Segal, President, OurTime.org: “Our members think that politics has become a rigged game. If we lose, it will be millennials and future generations who will have to live the longest in a morally obscure political process because the evidence is indisputable that political contributions affect legislative decisions. We're particularly interested in this case because for the young people who do contribute to political campaigns, the average amount of money we're giving is between $10 and 25. When you can only give $10 and 25 to candidates, clearly you can't win the amount of favor of people who are giving $5,000 to every single candidate's PAC."
  • Heather Smith, President, Rock The Vote: "It's no surprise that young Americans today are losing their faith in our government and its ability to be responsive to their needs and concerns. When asked why, repeatedly their top answer is that they believe that monied interests trump their own. This declining confidence in who we elect to represent us will lead to decreased participation among the millennial generation, and put our democracy at serious risk."
  • Dan Cantor, Executive Director, Working Families Organization: "We are fast approaching a point where politics is becoming a disagreement among rich people. That is not something we should want. I think at Working Families, as with many other grassroots organizations, we prefer to be judged by the quality of our ideas, not by the size of our checkbook."
  • Marge Baker, Executive VP for Policy and Program, People For the American Way Foundation: "PFAW and its hundreds of thousands of members fight every day to protect core constitutional values– values like equality, fairness, equal justice, and equal opportunity for all. These are values which are increasingly under attack from well-funded forces representing the powerful and the privileged."
  • Rick Poore, National Executive Committee, Main Street Alliance: "I'm here today because it's clear that money is ruining our politics. Giving big money donors more influence in our elections, and more influence over our elected leaders is bad news for small businesses like mine. In a recent survey of business executives, both small and large, crossing party lines, 75% said that our campaign finance system is pay-to-play. Pay to play corruption is warping both economic and political competition.”
  • Miles Rapoport, President, Demos: "The Citizens United ruling and the rise of the super PACs have expanded the ability of wealthy individuals and corporations to shape election outcomes and set the policy agenda in Washington and state capitols across the country. The wrong decision in McCutcheon would only make matters worse."

Listen to a recording of the call here: http://bit.ly/17CffDA 

Read “McCutcheon Money” here: http://bit.ly/16JWXmq 

Read Demos’ Amicus brief here: http://bit.ly/15NlaTr 

Press Contact:

Elektra Gray

Director of Communications

egray@demos.org

212-485-6014