After the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision Wednesday that threw out a cap on the total amount wealthy donors can give to federal candidates in an election season, Democrats and self-proclaimed do-gooders cried foul at the prospect of more big money's tainting Washington politics. Federal law continues to cap individual contributions to congressional candidates at $5,200, but the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision eliminated the $48,600 cap on the total individuals can contribute to candidates and the $74,600 cap on donations to political committees.
An online New York Times story announced, "The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and very likely increase the already large role money plays in American politics."
Stop, please. The Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org estimates that GOP biggie Sheldon Adelson and his wife bulldozed $93 million into conservative super PACs in 2012. Does anyone inside the Beltway really believe that special interests have been holding back and that now that they can give $5,200 to more than nine candidates, the big money is really going to roll out?
"If Citizens United opened a door, today's decision, we fear, will open a floodgate," Justice Stephen Breyer proclaimed, speaking for the four dissenting justices. He's righteous, but he's wrong. I agreed with the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling -- which found that corporations and unions have a First Amendment right to give unlimited cash to independent expenditure campaigns -- because I believe in free speech.
That said, Citizens United was a floodgate; McCutcheon is more like a door chain that stands to keep more money in more regulated operations. Without the $123,200 ceiling on contributions, big donors will be able to donate more money directly to parties and candidates, as opposed to independent efforts that give plutocrats a supersize role in elections.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a gaggle of reporters, "I think Justice Breyer summed up the (administration's) disappointment rather cogently in his argument when he said that taken together with Citizens United, 'today's decision 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.'"