Supreme Court Continues To Gut Campaign Finance Laws

A divided (5-4) United States Supreme Court today struck down a federal law limiting the total or “aggregate” amount of money that a single person can contribute to all federal candidates.   I’m not an authority on campaign finance law, but I do know one thing: if you really want to understand the majority opinion in a Supreme Court case, you should begin by reading the first several paragraphs of the dissenting opinion (if one exists).  Here is what Justice Breyer, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, had to say in the opening paragraphs of his dissent in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Comm’n: 

Nearly 40 years ago in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1 (1976) (per curiam), this Court considered the constitutionality of laws that imposed limits upon the overall amount a single person can contribute to all federal candidates, political parties, and committees taken together. The Court held that those limits did not violate the Constitution. Id., at 38; accord, McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U. S. 93, 138, n. 40, 152–153, n. 48 (2003) (citing with approval Buckley’s aggregate limits holding).

The Buckley Court focused upon the same problem that concerns the Court today, and it wrote:

 “The overall $25,000 ceiling does impose an ultimate restriction upon the number of candidates and committees with which an individual may associate himself by means of financial support. But this quite modest restraint upon protected political activity serves to prevent evasion of the $1,000 contribution limitation by a person who might otherwise contribute massive amounts of money to a particular candidate through the use of unearmarked contributions to political committees likely to contribute to that candidate, or huge contributions to the candidate’s political party. The limited, additional restriction on associational freedom imposed by the overall ceiling is thus no more than a corollary of the basic individual contribution limitation that we have found to be constitutionally valid.” 424 U. S., at 38.

Today a majority of the Court overrules this holding. It is wrong to do so. Its conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

(My emphasis.)

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