The Supreme Court invalidated the two-year aggregate limit on federal campaign contributions, which was $123,200 for the 2013-2014 election cycle.
Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the court yesterday said the caps violated the First Amendment speech rights of Alabama Republican businessman Shaun McCutcheon, who had been “seeking to give candidates, parties and political committees more than the $123,200 maximum,” Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr reported.
“It was the court’s biggest campaign-finance decision since its 2010 Citizens United ruling allowed unlimited corporate spending,” Stohr wrote.
Big winners from the ruling include wealthy donors, who are now free to donate to a greater number of federal candidates, and political party organizations such as the national Democratic and Republican groups that are raising money to prepare for House and Senate elections this November.
The court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC will spawn the creation of what campaign-finance analysts are calling “super” joint fundraising committees (JFCs), organizations that can now accept much larger donor checks and then distribute the funds to scores of national party committees, the federal arms of state party committees, candidates’ campaign committee and political action committees (PACs) in a way that complies with base contribution limits that remain intact.
“After today’s decision, we expect to see the emergence of large ‘Super JFCs’ that will have many candidate participants,” according to an advisory from the Washington-based firm Covington & Burling. “These Super JFCs will be able accept very large contributions in a single check. For high net worth individuals, this means they will be able to write fewer checks than before, but now with much greater impact.”
McCutcheon didn’t challenge the base limits under which donors can give a maximum of $2,600 to a candidate per election; a primary and a general election are considered under federal law as separate elections. Also remaining intact are the individual limits of $5,000 per year to an individual PAC, $10,000 per year to the federal arm of a state party committee, and $32,400 to a national party committee. The base donation limits to candidates and the national party committees are increased for inflation in odd-numbered years, as was the overall biennial limit that the court invalidated yesterday.
The court’s ruling also doesn’t affect super-political action committees, which can accept donations in unlimited amounts to independently promote the election or defeat of candidates. Super-PACs grew out of the high court’s Citizens United decision and subsequent federal court and regulatory rulings.
Whether the McCutcheon ruling will lead to “a groundswell of money in the system, I don’t know,” Neil Reiff, a Democratic campaign-finance lawyer with Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb, said in an interview. Writing a big check to a super-JFC is “still not as efficient as writing a check to a super-PAC, so I can’t necessarily compare this to the revolution of super-PACs in Citizens United. But obviously it’s something,” Reiff said.
A dozen states and the District of Columbia also have aggregate donation limits, and it’s “highly likely that the courts will deem those state laws imposing overall limits to be unconstitutional as well,” though there will be “a period of uncertainty at the state level until legal challenges are brought,” according to the Covington & Burling analysis.
Bloomberg News has more here about the consequences of yesterday’s court decision.