Money Talks: Supreme Court Strikes Down Limits on Free Speech

Barb Wire

Washington, D.C., (James Madison Center for Free Speech) — Today, the U.S. Supreme struck down federal “aggregate limits” on how much an individual may spend on otherwise legal contributions in a two-year election cycle to federal candidates, political parties, and political action committees (“PACs”). The case is McCutcheon v. FEC.

For example, though an individual may legally give $5,200 to each candidate in a two year election cycle, the aggregate limit restricts his total contributions to candidates to $48,600. Thus, an individual may give the full legal amount to only nine candidates.

Also struck down was an aggregate limit of $74,600 to all political parties and PACs, of which no more than $48,600 could go to all PACs and state political parties. In the alternative, all $74,600 could go to the three national political committees of each political party.

The Court found no government interest justifying aggregate limits. No anti-corruption interest justifies them because that interest is already addressed by “base limits,” which restrict how much an individual may give to a particular candidate, political party, or PAC. For example, Congress eliminated the quid-pro-quo corruption risk by limiting an individual’s contribution to a candidate to $2,600 per election.

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And there is also no anti-circumvention interest because other provisions of the federal campaign finance law prevents a particular candidate from receiving a contribution in excess of $5,200 from a particular donor. So the aggregate limits serve no constitutionally permissible purpose.

Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (one of two McCutcheon plaintiffs) comments: “Today’s decision is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse. I am pleased that the Court agreed that limits on how many candidates or committees a person may support unconstitutionally burden core First Amendment political activities. When free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger.”

James Bopp, Jr., lead attorney for RNC in the case says: “This is a great triumph for the First Amendment. A robust republic requires free speech and association, which means no limits on how many candidates an individual may support with a legal contribution. Congress allows contributions to nine candidates, but not ten. How could giving to candidate number ten cause any corruption if giving to candidates one through nine doesn’t?”

“This is also a great victory for political parties, who have been disadvantaged recently by the rise of super-PACs.  Political parties serve vital purposes, such as tempering polarization, and this is a step in the right direction to re-empower them,” adds Bopp.

Furthermore, says Bopp: “The Court also rejected the FEC’s ‘wild hypotheticals’ about corruption that suggest fanciful scenarios that are otherwise illegal under current federal law. First Amendment rights cannot be suppressed by mere speculation or a vivid imagination.”

The case briefing is at http://www.jamesmadisoncenter.org/cases/42-mccutcheon-fec.html. The opinion is at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinions.aspx?Term=13.

James Bopp, Jr. served as counsel of record for Plaintiff/Appellant Republican National Committee and was their lead counsel in the United States Supreme Court. He and his law firm represented all parties, including McCutcheon, in the District Court and in filing the successful appeal to the Supreme Court.  They created the legal analysis on which the Supreme Court based its decision, which was set out in their briefs for the RNC. This case builds on Citizens United v. FEC and FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, prior Supreme Court cases the law firm handled, that are central to the Court’s reaffirmation of First Amendment liberty in the political-speech arena.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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