Supreme Court Opens New Political Contribution Opportunities for Big Donors

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In a divided 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court today struck down the federal election law’s long-standing “biennial limit” – the aggregate amount that a person can give to federal candidates and other committees in a two-year election cycle. Prior to the Court’s ruling, an individual could contribute no more than $123,200 during 2013 and 2014, with a maximum of $48,600 for candidates and $74,600 to party committees and PACs. Now, individuals are free to contribute to as many candidates and other committees as they please, so long as each contribution is within limits.

Writing for four of the justices, Chief Justice Roberts stated that the only legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances is to prevent corruption or the appearance of it. The aggregate limits, in their view, do not further this interest, but do seriously restrict participation in the democratic process. The plurality opinion observed that the government may no more “restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”

The four justices in the plurality did not revisit the different constitutional treatment of political contributions to candidates and expenditures by persons and entities, which allows for greater regulation of contributions. In his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas expressed his view that both per candidate and aggregate contribution limits are unconstitutional.

For the 2014 elections, individuals are still limited to giving $2600 to a candidate for each election ($5200 for the general and primary elections combined). In addition, on an annual basis, an individual can give no more than $32,400 to a national party committee, $10,000 to a state or local committee, and $5000 to any other federal committee or PAC.

The Court’s full decision is available at this link.  

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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