In an opinion that came as little surprise to anyone the Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. FEC did away with aggregate limits on individual campaign contributions. Although the cap remains on individual contributions to a candidate, wealthy contributors are now free to give to as many candidates or political organizations as they please.
Dissenting, Justice Breyer responded to Chief Justice Roberts’ assertion that the possibility of circumventing the remaining base contribution limits are purely hypothetical and remote. “We react to (that claim) rather like Oscar Wilde reacted to Dickens’ depiction of the death of Little Nell. ‘One would have to have a heart of stone,’ said Wilde, ‘to read it without laughing.'”
A long line of spectators and a smattering of demonstrators, some with halloween themed placards – as well as two suspected C-span interns with a crappy banner that demanded “Cameras in the Court NOW!” – were on the Supreme Court plaza this morning for the Court’s latest go at campaign finance.
The case, McCutcheon v. FEC, is brought by a wealthy Alabama businessman who is challenging the limit on total contributions during a two-year election cycle. Current law limits individual contributions to candidates to $48,600 and $74,600 to parties and PACs during the two-year cycle. That the law limits the number of candidates to whom he could donate $1776 Shaun McCutcheon considers a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.
A lawyer for Senator Mitch McConnell argued that limits on the aggregate contributions should meet the test of strict scrutiny to pass constitutionality.
While Solicitor General Donald Verrilli warned that without the limits elections could be dominated by wealthy donors.
Lyle Denniston’s story here.
Under Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Act candidates who accept public funding receive grants matching dollar for dollar ( up to twice their initial grant and with adjustments ) the amounts spent on the campaign of a privately funded candidate.
The lawyer arguing against the Arizona law, William Maurer said, “…this case is about whether the government can turn my act of speaking into the vehicle by which my political opponents benefit….”
When the lawyer for Arizona’s Secretary of State, Bradley Phillips, referred to testimony that never was money withheld from a race for fear of triggering matching funds Chief Justice Roberts cut him off saying, “Oh that, there’s a back and forth about the record and common sense. As a matter of common sense . . . if you knew that a $10,000 expenditure that you would make . . . would result in $30,000, 40,000, 50,000, depending on how many opposition candidates there were . . ., wouldn’t you think twice about it?
As the arguments were wrapping up Justice Breyer, a supporter of campaign finance reforms, said to the Justice Department lawyer, “Answer this if you wish, don’t if you don’t want to . . . as I hear this argument, what’s going through my mind is we are deeply into the details of a very complex bill. McCain-Feingold is hundreds of pages, and we cannot possibly test each provision which is related to the others on such a test of whether it equalizes or incentivizes or some other thing, because the answer is normally we don’t know. And,” he continued, “it is better to say that it’s all illegal than to subject these things to death by a thousand cuts, because we don’t know what will happen when we start tinkering with one provision rather than another. That thought went through my mind as I’ve heard this discussion.”
AP story here.
“It is a
jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent.” Chief Justice Roberts at his 2005 confirmation hearings
Overturning its own precedents the Supreme Court yesterday removed limits on corporate campaign spending citing the First Amendment free speech rights of corporations.
In dissenting from the majority in Citizens United v. FEC Justice Stevens wrote “Under the majority’s view, I suppose it may be a First Amendment
problem that corporations are not permitted to vote, given that voting
is, among other things, a form of speech.”
Dahlia Lithwick has the story here.
Above is a sketch of Tuesday’s arguments in a campaign finance (read McCain-Feingold) case about a blistering 90-minute political film, Hillary: The Movie.
The sketch shows former Solicitor General Ted Olson arguing on behalf of the movie’s producers. Note that the foreground is filled with some of the Supreme Court press regulars; they are: in the first (foreground) row, left to right, Pete Williams, NBC, Marcia Coyle, National Law Journal, Tony Mauro, Legal Times, in the second row are Adam Liptak, New York Times, Nina Totenberg, NPR, Joan Biskupic, USA Today, and Robert Barnes, Washington Post.
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, who is not pictured because she sits back in the alcove with us artists (the true ink-stained wretches), has the story here.
Solicitor General Paul Clement arguing today to uphold the “blackout” provisions of the federal campaign finance law meant to stop sham “issue ads”.
AP story here.