Click here for The Court Follows the Money, by The New York Times Editorial Board:
In the court’s most significant campaign-finance ruling since Citizens United in 2010, five justices voted to eliminate sensible and long-established contribution limits to federal political campaigns. Listening to their reasoning, one could almost imagine that the case was simply about the freedom of speech in the context of elections.
But make no mistake, like other rulings by the Roberts court that have chipped away at campaign-finance regulations in recent years, the McCutcheon decision is less about free speech than about giving those few people with the most money the loudest voice in politics.In a five-page dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed the view that the decision did not go far enough, and that all contribution limits as unconstitutional.
The article concludes:
As a result of Wednesday’s ruling, an individual donor will now be able to contribute as much as $3.6 million per election cycle (the sum of maximum donations to all national and state party committees and a party’s presidential and Congressional candidates). This money can then be funneled to specific campaigns through the use of joint fund-raising committees, effectively nullifying the per-candidate limit. Chief Justice Roberts blithely rejected such a scenario as “speculation,” and he ignored political reality by confining the meaning of corruption to instances of “quid pro quo,” or the direct exchange of money for political favors.
But the interest of Congress in preventing political corruption has long been “far broader” than merely forbidding bribery, as Justice Stephen Breyer argued in dissent. It includes an interest in controlling influence over and access to politicians.
And the per-candidate cap on its own, Justice Breyer wrote, is no more than “a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
The real losers in the McCutcheon case are the vast majority of average Americans without barrels of cash to dump on elections. Even the now-invalidated aggregate caps were extremely high, and only very few contributors ever reached them. In 2012, 1,715 donors gave the maximum to political party committees, and 591 gave the maximum to candidates.
Thanks to Wednesday’s decision, the interests of the very few wealthiest Americans — which differ significantly from those of most Americans — will now get even more outsize consideration by legislators. As former Senator Alan Simpson testified in an earlier campaign-finance case, “Who, after all, can seriously contend that a $100,000 donation does not alter the way one thinks about — and quite possibly votes on — an issue?”
The court took pains to emphasize that the per-candidate limit remained intact, but that is a fig leaf when someone can write a check for millions to be used as party bosses see fit. Either way, it will not be long before the constitutionality of that limit, too, comes before the court.
When Chief Justice Roberts was named to the Supreme Court in 2005, he pledged to embody the “judicial restraint” so beloved, at least in name, by conservatives. Yet his court’s campaign-finance rulings have determinedly eaten away at the court’s own precedents and decades of anticorruption efforts by members of Congress who, unlike the justices, understand intimately how money in politics actually works.