Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Supreme Court issued an opinion Wednesday that strikes down aggregate caps on federal campaign contributions by an individual.
In ruling in the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), majority or five of nine justices appointed by Republicans found the total amount of money an individual can give to political campaigns and political action committees (PACs) are unconstitutional.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, said the limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities.” Roberts also said the aggregate limits do little to prevent corruption, which is the intention of the laws.
Justice Clarence Thomas concurred with them.
In a dissenting opinion written for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Justice Stephen Breyer said the limits were constitutional as a means to guard against corruption and circumvention of the still-valid limits on donations to individual campaigns and PACs.
They warned that with the ruling and a previous decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission render the country’s campaign finance laws incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy, which the laws intended to resolve.
Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, and the Republican National Committee are the plaintiffs in the case against FEC. They challenged the limit on donations arguing that it limited First Amendment rights.
The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) limits to $48,600 an individual’s contributions to all federal candidates every two years and to $74,600 the contributions to political party committees for the same period. Limits on individual contributions to candidates for president or Congress is $2,600 per election, but the Supreme Court decision did not touch on this provision.
Opponents of the contribution limits, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), hailed the decision as a victory for free speech. Proponents of strict campaign finance rules, including the White House, warned of an explosion in campaign spending that threatens democracy.