The left is crying foul, but both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have much to gain from today’s Supreme Court decision which strikes down federal aggregate giving limits to candidates, parties and party committees. The maximum donation of $2,600 per election cycle for federal candidates still stands, as does the maximum amount an individual can give to a party or a candidate’s committee, which is $5,000 and $10,000 respectively.
But prior to today, a person could only cumulatively give $48,600 to all federal candidates for office during any one two-year election cycle. So, if you wanted to give the maximum amount, say, to all Democratic House members during a two-year cycle, you couldn’t do so. All told, contributions to political parties and candidate committees and candidates were limited to $123,200 per election cycle.
This should be good news for parties and maybe not such good news for super-PACS, which, since the 2010 Citizens United ruling, impose no limits. Allowing for more money to go to parties allows parties greater control of the process and the ability to impose party discipline. Because of those limits, politicians like those in the tea party, who are largely financed by rich individuals, have been able to ignore their parties. This ruling begins to even the playing field.
It also might provide a greater opening for a challenge to Alaska’s state campaign laws, which are some of the most restrictive in the country.
A long held view which informs much, but not all, of campaign finance law is that campaign restrictions are set to combat corruption and the appearance of corruption. If they don’t do that, then they violate free speech.
Here’s Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority:
This Court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. We have consistently rejected attempts to suppress campaign speech based on other legislative objectives. No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field,’ or to ‘level electoral opportunities,’ or to ‘equalize the financial resources of candidates…’ The First Amendment prohibits such legislative attempts to ‘fine-tune’ the electoral process, no matter how well intentioned.
It’s unclear how some of Alaska’s state finance laws will stand up to such scrutiny. For instance, state law restricts a non-incumbent gubernatorial candidate from soliciting campaign contributions in Juneau during the legislative session. Recently, the Alaska Public Offices Commission ruled that Democratic candidate for governor Byron Mallott couldn’t accept money from Juneau residents while he was in Juneau during the session, even though he lives there.
I’ve got a few phone calls in today about that, and will update when I get a better idea of potential challenges.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org