New Report Quantifies Supreme Court's Impact on 2016 Election Spending

Release Date: 
March 14, 2017

New York, NY (March 14, 2017) – Today, Demos released a new report entitled Court Cash: 2016 Election Money Resulting Directly from Supreme Court Rulings. The report quantifies for the first time the direct impact of four of the Supreme Court’s most significant money in politics cases on 2016 election spending. 

Key findings include: 

  • The Supreme Court’s rulings led to more than $3 billion in spending on the 2016 elections, which is equivalent to 45 percent of the total cost of the elections. 
  • The Court’s rulings led to 77 percent of spending in competitive congressional races, and 49 percent of spending the presidential election can be attributed to the Court. 
  • The Court’s rulings allowed 123 wealthy candidates to spend $161 million on their own campaigns. 
  • 1724 wealthy donors contributed $274 million in “McCutcheon Money” in 2016—money that went beyond what would have been permitted by the previous “aggregate” contribution limit.
  • Buckley v. Valeo resulted in more 2016 campaign spending than Citizens United v. FEC

This report demonstrates the profound impact of Supreme Court decisions on the role of big money in American politics. Given the upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Judge Gorsuch’s pending nomination to the high court – and his record on this issue - the report speaks volumes about what is at stake for our democracy. 

“By striking basic protections against big money dominating our elections, the Supreme Court has shifted the balance of power towards the wealthy and special interests and away from ordinary Americans,” said Adam Lioz, Demos Counsel and Senior Advisor, Policy & Outreach. “With the vacancy on the Supreme Court, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. The ninth justice will determine on whether wealthy donors continue to drive our major policy decisions, or whether we can instead build a democracy where the size of our wallets doesn’t determine the strength of our voices.” 

The report analyzes the impact of the following rulings: Buckley v. Valeo (1976), Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. FEC (1996), Citizens United v. FEC (2010), and McCutcheon v. FEC (2014). 

For Demos’ statement opposing Judge Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, please click here. For our fact sheet on Judge Gorsuch’s record on money in politics, please click here. For an FAQ on the role of the Supreme Court and money in politics, click here. For an racial equity analysis of money in politics and the Supreme Court, click here.