In a landmark yet divided decision handed down Wednesday, the Supreme Court eliminated two-year caps on the total amount of money individuals can give to candidates or political parties.
The ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which split the court’s liberal and conservative judges, will provide a huge boon for political parties, committees, and their preferred candidates in campaigns.
The decision does away with a $123,200 cap on overall donations from an individual in a two-year election cycle — $US48,600 to all candidates and $US74,600 to all political action committees and parties. Donors don’t have to worry about brushing up against that $US123,000 threshold. The decision, however, did not touch the individual donation limits to a single candidate or parties, which are set, respectively at $US2,600 and $US5,000.
Here’s a practical example of how this case could affect the 2014 midterm elections: Republicans, for instance, are targeting 14 Senate seats they think are winnable this year. Donors could now give a total of $US5,200 ($2,600 in the primary and $US2,600 in the general election) to as many candidates as they want this year — in both Senate and House races.
Under the aggregate limits that were under review by the Supreme Court, a donor could previously only give $US5,200 to nine candidates, if that donor wanted to only focus on Senate races. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the majority opinion of the court held that those aggregate limits did not prevent corruption, and they were unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The previous threshold also held that a “max donor” could give $US32,400 to as many as two of the party’s committees. This led to competition among the party committees — for example, the Republican National Committee, Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. After the Supreme Court’s decision, donors will be able to max out to as many committees as they wish.
“That makes a big difference when it comes to hard money that can be coordinated with all candidates,” RNC Chair Reince Priebus said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
It’s likely that Republicans stand to gain more from the decision than Democrats. The Republican National Committee was one of the plaintiffs in the case, along with Alabama engineer Shaun McCutcheon. Republicans have by and large praised the ruling, because they view campaign spending as a form of free speech. Democrats and the Obama administration slammed it on Wednesday.
Last October, the Sunlight Foundation looked at who stood to benefit from this potential decision. It found that about two-thirds of the top 1,000 donors in the 2012 cycle gave to Republicans.
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