Citizens United, Part 2

The McCutcheon v. FEC decision gives the wealthiest even more influence in elections than they already had.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Another Limit on Campaign Contributions

Just days after 2016 GOP hopefuls traveled to Las Vegas to kowtow to billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, the Supreme Court has made it even easier for the ultra-rich to control elections. In McCutcheon v. FEC, the five conservative Justices ruled that aggregate limits in campaign contributions are unconstitutional.

Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress breaks down exactly what the decision does, and why it is so harmful:

What McCutcheon invalidates are aggregate limits on the total amount of money that donors may give to all federal candidates ($48,600) and to all political committees ($74,600). Thus, before Wednesday, donors could spend as much as $123,200 seeking to influence the 2014 election cycle — now they can spend as much as they want. Make no mistake, this decision benefits no one except for a handful of very wealthy donors. Who else can say that they’ve already given more than a hundred thousand dollars worth of donations and that they are upset that they cannot give even more?

The previous landmark campaign finance case, 2010’s Citizens United, struck down limits on campaign expenditures by independent groups. This paved the way for the explosion of super-PACs and gave billionaires like the Koch Brothers and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson the ability to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to influence the 2012 election.

The McCutcheon decision gives the wealthiest even more influence in elections. The public policy organization Demos has estimated that the decision will “bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.” According to their analysis, if these limits had not been in place during the 2012 election, 1,219 super-wealthy donors would have more than tripled their giving to more than $459 million. That number would have been almost 50 percent more than the $313 million in small dollar contributions to the Obama and Romney campaigns.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer sums up the consequences:

Taken together with Citizens United v. FEC, 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 solve.

BOTTOM LINE: In the past four years, the Supreme Court has made it far easier for the wealthiest to buy an election and far harder for average Americans to vote in one. The McCutcheon decision doubles down on Citizen’s United, giving even more unchecked power to those who can afford to buy influence. Somewhere, the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson are raising a glass.

BONUS: For an in-depth look at why the conservative Justices display a naive view of political corruption in their McCutcheon opinion, be sure to check out this brief from our colleagues at the Center for American Progress. And take action with this online tool to tell your Senators to confirm judges who follow the law, not special interests.

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Advocacy Team