Another blow to campaign finance law

 
John Roberts smiles at the White House on 7 August, 2010. Chief Justice John Roberts's Supreme Court has shown a willingness to strike down campaign finance laws

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday took another big bite out of current campaign finance law, striking down a nearly 40-year-old measure capping the total amount of money individuals could donate to political campaigns and parties.

Hanging over today's court ruling in McCutcheon v FEC is the spectre of the 2010 Citizens United v FEC decision, which allowed corporations and labour unions to make unlimited donations to independent political action committees (super PACs) and fund issue advocacy advertising.

This contributed to a general mood on the left and among campaign finance advocates of resigned outrage.

"The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling on Wednesday striking down aggregate limits on political campaign contributions is no less destructive for being so widely predicted," writes Jesse Wegman in the New York Times.

Salon's Paul Campos is equally pessimistic.

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Wealthy donors now have a broad new power to launder money to political candidates”

End Quote Ian Millhiser ThinkProgress

"This latest outburst of judicial activism in the struggle to render campaign finance laws completely toothless is merely accelerating a historical process that is coming to seem almost inevitable," he writes.

Ari Berman in the Nation decries what he sees as the misplaced priorities of Supreme Court, which praises the first amendment freedom of speech when tearing down campaign finance laws but ignores 15th amendment civil rights protections as it strikes down voting rights acts.

"A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundament rights for all citizens doesn't sound much like a functioning democracy to me," he writes.

According to ThinkProgress's Ian Millhiser, this decision will allow state political parties to legally funnel money to any political campaign, opening up a huge loophole in the limits on donations to individual candidates.

"Wealthy donors now have a broad new power to launder money to political candidates - they just have to be a bit creative about how they do it," he writes.

Of course, he notes, they could also just give their money directly to independent committees, as allowed under the Citizens United decision.

"But it's hardly an argument for eliminating even more limits on how far the wealthy can go to influence elections," he concludes.

FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten writes that donors may prefer to "ingratiate themselves" to political parties rather than Super PACs.

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I think this is a positive development, a reaffirmation of free speech”

End Quote David Fredosso Conservative Intelligence Briefing

A side benefit, he says, is that the disclosure requirements for this type of donation are more stringent.

Meanwhile, conservatives are heralding the decision as a victory for free speech over counterproductive government regulation.

"I think this is a positive development, a reaffirmation of free speech, and something that liberals would appreciate more if they weren't deluding themselves about campaign finance law and what it can and cannot accomplish," writes David Fredosso of Conservative Intelligence Briefing.

Invariably, he notes, campaign finance "reform" is a fruitless project, as money always finds a way to influence politics. He says that when changes to campaign laws in 2002 limited the money political parties could spend on advertising, that money just went to independent groups instead.

"This silliness could have been completely ended had the court decided to go further and abolish all limits on campaign spending, so that all 'dark money' could flow to campaigns instead," he writes.

"And Congress could have done what conservatives proposed in 2002 in place of the useless system we adopted - increase disclosure requirements so that we know more about where campaign money comes from."

The McCutcheon decision affects a relatively small number of Americans, on both the left and the right, who reached the $123,200 (£74,000) cap on political donations.

Perhaps the most interesting development is the concurring opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, which called for doing away with all donation limits entirely, even the $2,600 (£1,560) maximum to individual candidates.

Could this be where the Supreme Court is headed?

"While Roberts goes out of his way to say that those base limits were not challenged today, he does not do anything to affirm that those limits are safe," writes UC-Irvine Law Prof Richard L Hasen in Slate.

"This opinion promises more bad things to come for money in politics, and soon."

It's the stuff of liberal nightmares and conservative dreams.

 

Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 27.

    The electorate never see a fair comparison and can't make an informed choice. Hence advertising. When the same few people control ads and media, democracy fails and fat cats decide for you.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 26.

    And now the greedy power hungry rich like George Soros will be unleashed to pervert the democratic process. At lest we can take some comfort in the fact that in the process some of their wealth will be redistributed.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 25.

    Another gun tragedy in the US? The democracy of an armed nation in action, while Rome burns at the latest from the most radical Supreme Court in US history - a mockery made, again, of the Constitution. Highest bidder wins in US world politics as US jingoism is scheduled to drive foreign policy, again. The West needs to get behind the International Criminal Court and take on the US aggressively!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 24.

    What was left of Democracy in the United States (precious little) continues to die and the media prefers to be consumed with a shooting at Fort Hood. While tragic, it is meaningless next to the decision the Supreme Court reinforced with this ruling. Lastly, the suggestion this ruling is a good thing because it increases transparency is quite idiotic reasoning. Adelson etc. could care less...

  • rate this
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    Comment number 23.

    Democrats should not waste their time on this one. I'll take increased transparency in return for accepting that you can't keep money out of politics.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 22.

    As I wrote my original comment, I remembered other laws that have been through our Congress. The ones about information gathering make my posting my original comment foolhardy and dangerous.

  • Comment number 21.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 20.

    One of the most culturally crippling consequences of ever growing gushes of cash into the campaign process, is the commercial main-stream-media's increased interest in presenting 'both sides of the argument equally' -- no matter how asinine or false one side may be.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    I agree with the bad guys (Republicans) on this one. It is fruitless to fight it. The good guys (Democrates) need to push for changes that will expand the number of people who vote by making it easier to vote.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    So, the much vaunted democracy of the United States ended today. Expect very sad times ahead.

  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 16.

    Is it really true that Chief Justice Roberts is actually an Al-Queda sleeper agent?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 15.

    Another sad day for America. This supreme court has let the american citizen down yet again. laws are meant to be interpreted for the benefit of most not for the benefit of least. The supreme court has yet again used the first amendment as an excuse to benefit the least (who have the most). Shame on us for tolerating this nonsense. ron.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 14.

    12. The usual 'Bush Jr was elected by the people, not by a rabid right wing Supreme Court decision' on a vote in Florida corrupted by Jeb Bush's 48,000 scrub list of alleged felons denied a vote. Had Al Gore been elected the nation would not be bankrupt and facing the recent crop of Supreme Court decisions that guarantee Republican rule and further impoverishment of the nation indefinitely!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 13.

    You are witnessing the demise of a democratic republic called the United States of America. May it rest in peace. The British gave us the idea and we have now screwed it up royally.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 12.

    Actually sawdustsavage it was the people that elected him you just have never gotten over it 9 years later......come November this year the current crop of socialist frauds will be shown the door. Very condescending post as we have seen.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 11.

    Who is shocked at this. Supreme Court positions should be an elective office. Never a lifetime appointment. After all it is the voter that should elect a president. As in the case of Mr. Bush it was the court that did it. Not a great choice as we have seen.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 10.

    Liberal nightmares or Conservative dreams are equally served by rich donors and self interest groups seeking Gov. favors.
    That Liberals serve the poor people and Republicans serve the rich is total hogwash. The 1%, corporations, banks, and moneyed layabouts are pretty much divided between all political elements. They, and both political parties serve themselves first.
    Marvin Fox

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 9.

    Campaign finance laws have been huge failures. How much money a Political part receives is not as important as the Constitutional morality of the political party. Real campaign finance reform begins by controlling the actions of political parties, not by controlling the actions of political party donors. The Constitutional of our Republic is imperative for our liberty.
    Marvin Fox

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 8.

    #6 Chris A

    Democracy is a failure in the USA --admit it .

    It is not even a ´tyranny of the majority´

 

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