Human Events Blog

Supreme Court to reconsider caps on political contributions

Reuters reports that the Supreme Court is getting ready to wade back into the murky swamps of campaign finance reform:

In a brief order, the court agreed to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a challenge by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee to limits on aggregate donations over a two-year period.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in September had rejected McCutcheon’s argument that capping donations violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

But if the Supreme Court disagrees, it could use the case to change part of its landmark 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, that upheld such caps, which are sums in the mid-five figures.

“This case gives the court a chance to reconsider an issue resolved in Buckley, upholding aggregate limits on contributions,” Richard Hasen, a campaign finance expert and law professor at the University of California at Irvine, said in a phone interview.

“It’s not a watershed case in the sense Citizens United was, but it could extend that case’s logic to contribution limits, which could be very significant,” he added.

Those who oppose McCutcheon’s motion worry that removing these limits would lead to more political corruption.  But we’ve already got plenty of that, and it’s hard to see how some of these arbitrary caps are materially improving the situation, especially when those special-interest rascals have so many ways to buy influence besides simple campaign donations.  They can get around some of these donation roadblocks just by making complex campaign donations.  And those complex donations erode the transparency that should be a more integral component of political spending than arbitrary dollar limits, a case made by the plaintiff’s lawyer:

Lifting the limits could allow individuals to funnel more money overall to candidates. For example, an individual could choose to donate $1 million to 400 candidates in $2,500 increments, but not donate $1 million to a single candidate.

“The limits distort the system by forcing people to give money to SuperPACs and advocacy groups, when they would rather give money to individual candidates and parties,” James Bopp, a lawyer for McCutcheon and the RNC, in a phone interview.

“That drives money away from the most accountable and transparent actors in our political system, in favor of entities that are basically unaccountable to the voter,” he added.

Corruption is the daily fare of Big Government, even in cases where no crimes are technically committed; it is quite possible for politics to corrupt society without offending the law.  The obsessive focus upon campaign spending corruption, which is only a factor every couple of years, distracts us from the corruption that pervades everyday life. And even at that, it doesn’t seem as if these efforts to “get the money out of politics” have been terribly effective.  If you don’t want special interests writing million-dollar checks to get their favorite candidates elected, the most reliable defense is to reduce the value of politicians until nobody wants to spend a million dollars buying one.

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