Supreme Court Undermines Democracy with New Gift to Top Donors in McCutcheon v. FEC Ruling

Release Date: 
April 2, 2014

NEW YORK—Today, in the most significant money in politics case since Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down critical limits on the amount a wealthy individual can give directly to favored candidates, parties, and committees. Prior to McCutcheon v. FEC, a wealthy donor was limited to a cap of $123,200. Now, that same donor can give more than $3.5 million.

“Today’s decision shows how fatally flawed the Court’s approach to money in politics has become.  It will do incalculable harm to our democracy, allowing millions of new dollars to flow,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President of Legal Strategies. “This will lead to even further domination of our politics and public policy by the economic elite, pushing ordinary Americans further out of the political process.”

>>Watch Demos President Heather McGhee break down what this ruling means for our democracy <<

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court struck down limits on political spending by corporations, which opened the floodgates for big money to shape election outcomes. McCutcheon v. FEC has now taken the next step in the march to remove common sense limits on political spending.  

In a report released before oral argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, Demos and U.S. PIRG quantified the likely impact of this ruling, with aggregate contribution limits struck down in their entirety. The research found that more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from a small segment of elite donors would be brought in through the 2020 election cycle.

McCutcheon Money defined 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 estimated that the same tiny group could have given $459.3 million if this ruling occurred prior to the last election cycle. 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.

As Justice Breyer’s dissent eloquently observes, “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.”  

“This distorted interpretation of the Constitution cannot stand,” Wright concluded. “We need transformational change to the Court’s approach to money in politics so that the fundamental American values of political equality, accountable government, and fair representation for all regardless of wealth are served.”

Resources:
McCutcheon Money: The Projected Impact of Striking Aggregate Contribution Limits

Stop The Next Citizens United: A McCutcheon v. FEC Explainer

Stacked Deck: How The Dominance of Politics by the Affluent & Business Undermines Economic Mobility in America

Breaking the Vicious Cycle: How the Supreme Court Helped Create the Inequality Era and Why a New Jurisprudence Must Lead Us Out