Thank you, Supreme Court. Before your decision Wednesday in McCutcheon vs.
Of course, individuals could, and still can, give unlimited sums to independent groups, such as so-called super PACs and other nonprofit corporations. Much of this giving remains undisclosed. For instance, super PACs such as Restore Our Future, American Crossroads, Priorities USA Action and others spent almost $830 million in the 2012 election. Talk about constraints on one's ability to participate in our electoral processes.
And how many people were handcuffed by these limits? Well, fewer than 600 donors, or 0.0000019% of Americans, gave the maximum amount under those oh-so-restrictive limits, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And 0.1% of 310 million Americans give $2,500 or more in political campaigns.
Well, good news for you big donors: no more pesky aggregate contribution limits. Sure, you are still limited to giving only $5,200 per federal candidate ($2,600 for the primary and $2,600 for the general) and $5,000 annually per PAC. But now you can directly support as many candidates as you want.
But is this really what was envisioned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, when
The weakening of campaign finance restrictions began in 1976 with a bungled but seminal decision in which the high court ruled that money should be viewed as speech. In Buckley vs. Valeo, the court upheld contribution limits (including the now-invalid aggregate contribution limits) but struck down the expenditure limits. And thus the court kicked off the endless fundraising race that is now such a familiar facet of political campaigns.
Although the Buckley ruling dealt a serious blow to the ability of government to limit the flow of money in politics, there was a period of deference to Congress and state legislatures that passed campaign finance restrictions. But in 2006, Justice
Its 2010 Citizens United ruling, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts advocating for and against candidates, was more of an amputation than a paper cut. It was the most visible example of the court's view. Well, that is until now.
Now donors have plenty of ways to provide money directly to candidates. They can give to joint fundraising committees, a candidate's party's PAC and on and on.
Where does McCutcheon leave us? It leaves people like me who believe it is both legal and good policy to limit the influence of money in politics in an existential crisis. As ever more money is injected into our political system, it is worth asking how we want that money to flow, whether it be through direct contributions, independent expenditures or another mechanism.
Our current system essentially limits only direct contributions from donors to candidates and political committees. But independent organizations receive and dispense vast sums related to candidate campaigns, and many do not have to disclose the donors of this dark money.
The base contribution limits could be the next restriction on the chopping block. If that's the case, we must come up with better ways to create a system of true transparency.
Here's looking at you, Congress, states and government agencies.