Last week the Supreme Court delivered a resounding victory for free speech in McCutcheon vs. FEC. A revisiting of sorts to Citizens United, the case challenged campaign finance limits. More specifically, the case challenged aggregate spending limits for individuals. A little explanation might be in order here.
Any individual in the US can donate up to $5,200 to a candidate in any given election; $2600 for the primary and $2,600 for the general. The individual contribution limit was not at issue in the case. What was at issue is that an individual can only donate a TOTAL number of dollars per election cycle. That limit stood at $48,600 for candidates and $74,600 for state party committees. These spending limits were created when campaign finance reform, by the name of McCain-Feingold, passed in 2003.
Businessman and Republican committeeman Shawn McCutcheon objected to the limits and brought the lawsuit. In an expected and contentious 5-4 ruling the court rightly ruled that it was an infringement on the 1st Amendment’s right to Free Speech to limit an individual’s total spending per election cycle. The minority four leftist judges blasted out a dissent piggybacking Democratic talking points that it would lead to more corruption and heaven’s to betsy more money in politics.
Ironically, this ignores the fact that there remains an individual spending limit on contributions. Let’s do a little math here. If an individual were to donate $5,200 to a candidate in a general and primary campaign for the House they would still cap at (435 x $5,200) $2,262,000. This is not an insignificant chunk of change by any stretch and one must keep in mind this ignores spending on legislative and statewide executive races. But the argument that it means politics will be even more controlled by moneyed interests is laughable. This argument becomes even more absurd when the people pushing it (Democratic leaders) are some of the wealthiest members in Congress. Keep in mind, an individual candidate can spend as much of his/her money as she wants on a campaign. Yes, I just bet a challenger can go toe to toe with Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi self-funding (insert witticism here).
In writing for the dissent, Justice Breyer argued that the government had a compelling interest in limiting corruption in politics. Enough to justify an infringement on a 1st Amendment right to speech though? What is missing is that democracy means being able to spend your money how you choose, even in the realm of politics. Liberals have never been able to see that money is a form of speech; except when they want to, say, boycott Chick-Fil-A for supporting traditional marriage organizations.
Conservatives largely credited the decision as an affirmation of the 1st Amendment, as I do, but even some on the left and in the center acknowledge that it might actually help limit corruption by minimizing the impact of less transparent SuperPAC’s. Now, more candidates and state party committees can solicit for funds in a more transparent, and regulated process, than before. This argument is unlikely to sway hardcore liberals who believe in campaign finance but it is an intriguing argument I had not heard of until recently.
McCutcheon is unlikely to significantly impact American politics or democracy in the short-term. Democrats parrot the talking point the SCOTUS just handed Republicans a sure-fire advantage in the next few election cycles but what they will not say is they will adapt to the ruling as well, probably before 2016. Expect Democratic candidates and officials to run nationwide to grab dollars. By 2011, Democrats already had adapted to Citizens United and founded several third-party groups and SuperPACs to fund their political ambitions.
McCutcheon is yet another sign that American democracy is healthy and vibrant. A society that prizes our Constitution would see that money equals speech (I have a list of examples on the tip of my tongue) and recognize that spending limits hurt speech. It is not for the government to judge what equals an unequal voice in politics. Heck, liberals want to do that by silencing big business in the form of the oil industry and agriculture (minus the interests of a few red state Democratic Senators who feel differently). Rather, government should promote speech in all its forms. This, is but one positive step in doing so.