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Shaun McCutcheon and Big Money Victorious in New York

J. Mijin Cha

Shaun McCutcheon is everywhere. First he challenged aggregate contribution limits in a case currently before the Supreme Court that threatens to remove one of the last remaining reigns on campaign spending. Now, he successfully challenged a New York state contribution limit that that capped individual contributions to independent political groups (Super PACs). As a result, outside groups can spend as much money as they want in the New York City mayoral election and in statewide races going forward.

It’s important to note that McCutcheon's basic argument is that a $150,000 limit per year was a constitutional emergency. The median household income in New York State is just under $57,000. McCutcheon argued he was being harmed because he couldn’t spend almost three times as much as the typical New Yorker makes in a year on political spending.

Likewise, the federal McCutcheon case wants to strike down the $123,000 aggregate limit on contributions. This limit impacts literally 1,219 individuals. This elite group represents a tiny percentage of average Americans but it represents 1 in 6 billionaires. Public Campaign’s report highlights just how skewed this problem is towards the very richest echelon of our society.

It is toxic to have one individual that can wield so much power in an electoral system that is meant to be democratic. We’ve highlighted continually how because affluent and corporate interests dominate our electoral system, they dominate our political and policy priorities. It’s the reason why we focus on deficit reduction and not job creation and why we had a government shut-down.

Unfortunately, our judiciary seems to be blind to this reality. Indeed, in striking down the contribution limits, the court stated that any disruption caused by allowing unlimited donations would not “outweigh the irreparable harm that stems from restrictions on political speech.” In other words, protecting the ability of a very tiny percentage of affluent individuals to spend as much as they want is far more important that ensuring an electoral system that is responsive to the average American and not capture by elite interests.

It’s a shame that McCutcheon’s tantrums will result in even more money flooding our electoral system. It’s not a defense of political speech; it’s a defense of a system for the wealthy by the wealthy.