Supreme Court skep­ti­cal of cam­paign fi­nance cap

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Supreme Court jus­tices sig­naled Tues­day that they aren’t sold on cur­rent cam­paign fi­nance laws that limit how much Amer­i­cans can con­trib­ute di­rectly to can­di­dates and po­lit­i­cal par­ties, as the court met for the first ma­jor oral ar­gu­ment of its new term.

Three years ago the court, in a 5-4 rul­ing, opened the door to un­lim­ited spend­ing as long as it wasn’t co­or­di­nated with a can­di­date or party, and this new case, McCutcheon v. Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, could open the door for in­di­vid­u­als to take a more di­rect role in giv­ing to as many can­di­dates and par­ties as they want.

The case would not over­turn the limit on how much some­one could give to a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date or party, but would re­move the ag­gre­gate limit, which means donors could give the max­i­mum amount to lots of can­di­dates and par­ties — go­ing well be­yond the cur­rent to­tal limit of $132,000 per elec­tion.

Of the $132,000 limit, just $48,600 can go di­rectly to can­di­dates, while the rest is di­vided among po­lit­i­cal par­ties and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees. Repub­li­can plain­tiffs ar­gued the limit means some­one who wants to sup­port can­di­dates to the max­i­mum level can only fund nine of them — some­thing the jus­tices ac­knowl­edged was a limit on po­lit­i­cal free speech rights.

“You’re telling him that he can’t make that con­tri­bu­tion, how­ever mod­est, to a 10th can­di­date,” said Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr.

De­fend­ers of the law said they are fight­ing both the re­al­ity and ap­pear­ance of cor­rup­tion, which can hap­pen if a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual can give large amounts of money to a sin­gle can­di­date.

They said if the ag­gre­gate limit was re­moved, some­one could give to ev­ery House and Se­nate can­di­date and po­lit­i­cal party and have all of those siphon the money back to one can­di­date the donor wanted the money to go to in the first place.

If some­one were al­lowed to give to ev­ery po­lit­i­cal can­di­date and ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party it could amount to $3.5 mil­lion.

“We think the risk of cor­rup­tion is real,” said So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Don­ald B. Ver­rilli Jr., who de­fended the ex­ist­ing laws for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Pres­i­dent Obama, who three years ago used his State of the Union speech to per­son­ally crit­i­cize the Supreme Court for its rul­ing in the fa­mous Cit­i­zens United cam­paign fi­nance case, again chal­lenged the court Tues­day, plead­ing with them to up­hold lim­its.

“There aren’t a lot of func­tion­ing democ­ra­cies around the world that work this way, where you can ba­si­cally have mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires bankrolling who­ever they want, how­ever they want, in some cases, undis­closed. What it means is or­di­nary Amer­i­cans are shut out of the process,” Mr. Obama said at a news con­fer­ence Tues­day af­ter­noon, af­ter the oral ar­gu­ments.

The jus­tices re­peat­edly grap­pled with the sit­u­a­tion they and Congress have cre­ated to al­low un­lim­ited spend­ing by in­de­pen­dent groups, but to se­verely re­strict rais­ing and spend­ing by can­di­dates and par­ties.

Jus­tice Elena Ka­gan, the court’s new­est mem­ber, said rather than tweak­ing the ag­gre­gate lim­its, maybe the court should take another look at in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures.

“I sup­pose that if this court is hav­ing sec­ond thoughts about its rul­ings that in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­tures are not cor­rupt­ing, we could change that part of the law,” she said.

Still, it wasn’t just the con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing mem­bers of the court who ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about the ag­gre­gate lim­its.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.