Supreme Court lifts limits on aggregate campaign donations

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled 5-4 Wednesday in McCutcheon v. FEC [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that limits on overall campaign contributions by individual donors are unconstitutional. The court previously held in Buckley v. Valeo [opinion] that limits on contributions implicate First Amendment interests but that limits may be imposed so long as they are narrowly drawn to further a compelling governmental interest. The Federal Election Campaign Act [text] limited individual donations to candidates to $2,600 and overall donations to candidates, parties and political groups to $123,200. Though Wednesday's ruling left the cap on individual donations intact, the court ruled [opinion, PDF] that the aggregate limits are unconstitutional as an intrusion "without justification on a citizen's ability to exercise the most fundamental First Amendment activities." Writing for the dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that Wednesday's decision, along with the court's 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC [JURIST backgrounder], "eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] on the case in October after the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the FECA, holding that Congress is better equipped than the courts to determine whether aggregate limits are justified. Shaun McCutcheon [Daily Beast profile], a Republican donor and CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development [corporate website], partnered with the Republican National Committee (RNC) [official website] to challenge the law after he reached the aggregate contribution limit for the 2011-12 election cycle but wanted to make further donations. US Senator Mitch McConnell [official website] subsequently joined [brief, PDF] the litigation and had is own attorney appear before the Supreme Court to represent his interests.

 

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