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Press release/statement

Demos on McCutcheon v. FEC Oral Arguments, Impact of Striking Aggregate Limits

WASHINGTON DC -- Today, oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC brought protesters to Washington in an effort to urge the high court to uphold the constitutionality of aggregate campaign contribution limits, in the most significant big money in politics case since Citizens United v. FEC.

With a bad ruling, the Roberts Court could unleash more than $1 billion in McCutcheon Money from just 1,500 elite donors. 

McCutcheon v. FEC is a challenge to the $123,000 donation cap, with plaintiffs advocating to give a single wealthy donor the ability to contribute more than $3.5 million directly to candidates, campaigns and parties. This would greatly increase the risk of corruption and appearance of corruption, allowing donors to circumvent any remaining limits in an attempt to exert improper influence on our elected officials, a point made repeatedly by several of the Justices.

New research from Demos and U.S. PIRG points to what's at stake in the case.  

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

"With a bad ruling, the Roberts Court could unleash more than $1 billion in McCutcheon Money from just 1,500 elite donors," said Adam Lioz, Counsel at Demos.  "This will only fuel the public's strong sense that our government is corrupt because it responds mostly to these donors rather than to constituents or the greater good."

Americans are outraged at the dominance of big money on our government, and they are turned off by what they see as the corruption of their representatives. Justice Ginsburg discussed the “First Amendment positive” of allowing more Americans to feel that their voice has an impact on their representatives, saying “that’s basic, I think.”

Challengers attempted to conflate the Court’s historical understanding of the dangers raised by direct financial relationships between contributors and candidates with the Court’s current analysis of the corrupting influences of independent expenditures. But Justice Kagan rightly noted that if the Court is having second thoughts about its decisions regarding the danger of corruption attendant to independent expenditures it should revisit that decision, not move forward in dismantling these other money in politics protections.

Justice Breyer emphasized the close parallel to McConnell v FEC, a case where the Court upheld McCain-Feingold’s solicitation ban. He emphasized that the legislative record in McConnell is full of evidence that supports the need for rules governing the influence of money on government and noted the absence of such a record in McCutcheon. He suggested that the court shouldn’t strike down these limits without a better-developed understanding of the real world impact.

“The Court must make its decisions in light of the real world of politics and protections in which we live” said Liz Kennedy, Counsel at Demos. “In Citizens United the Justices mistakenly assumed that all the new money they let into the system would be disclosed. This time they should defer to Congressional authority and judgment, and not continue to dismantle our democratic protections piece by piece.”

"The tone of the arguments indicated that some of the justices are open to tossing aside these important contribution limits," said Lioz.  "This would be disastrous for democracy--taking us a giant step towards a nation where the size of your wallet determines the strength of your voice."