The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday to remove overall campaign contribution limits triggered howls of protest from a range of the political spectrum, from the Sunlight Foundation to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-described democratic socialist who caucuses with the Democratic Party.
Sanders called out the five Supreme Court justices who signed the majority opinion in McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission.
“What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in?” Sanders asked in a posting on Politicususa. “To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd.”
McCain warned that the decision will result in “scandals involving corrupt public officials and the unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions.”
However, others praised the decision for its alignment with First Amendment protection of free speech.
The James Madison Center, which argued for the limits to be dissolved, said it’s a matter of fairness and the right of Americans to support the candidate or candidates they choose.
In striking down the federal “aggregate limits” on donations, the group noted the limit remains on the amount given to one candidate. There is no anti-corruption interest, the center said, that “justifies the number of candidates a donor can support.”
“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,” the center explained.
The court found no government interest or constitutionally permissible purpose in aggregate limits.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the 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,” he said. “When free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger.”
James Bopp, Jr., lead attorney for RNC, called the decision “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,,” he said. “Congress allows contributions to nine candidates, but not 10. How could giving to candidate No. 10 cause any corruption if giving to candidates one through nine doesn’t?”
Bopp said it’s 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,” he said.
Furthermore, Bopp said, the court also rejected the Federal Election Commission’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,” he said.
The case also struck down the aggregate limit of $74,600 for giving to all political parties and PACS, of which no more than $48,600 could go to all PACS and state poltical parties.
There still are “base limits,” which restrict how much an individual may give to a particular candidate, party or PAC.
McCain argued against the First Amendment links to candidate donations.
“I was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision today,” he said. “While I have advocated for increasing the aggregate limits on individual contributions to candidates and party committees, I am concerned that today’s ruling may represent the latest step in an effort by a majority of the court to dismantle entirely the longstanding structure of campaign finance law erected to limit the undue influence of special interests on American politics.””
McCain predicted “scandals involving corrupt public officials and unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions that will force the system to be reformed once again.”
Sanders joined in the outrage.
“Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government,” he said.
“What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in? To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd. The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”
The website Politicususa added its own commentary, saying those who want to lift the restrictions desire only “to control every level of government.”
“Today’s ruling illustrates the fact that they already control the Supreme Court,” the website said. “The Ryan budget and the House agenda show that they control the Republican majority in the House of Representatives. In 2014 they are coming for the Senate, and in 2016, they want the White House.’”
The court ruling said wealthy donors shouldn’t be limited in how many candidate they support, although a limit on how much can be given to a single candidate was left in place.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. emphasized in the majority opinion the rights of individual citizens.
“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” Roberts wrote. “If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades – despite the profound offense such spectacles cause – it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”
Roberts found it made no sense that someone could give the limited amount to nine candidates but not a 10th.
Michael Waldman of the New York University Brennan Center for Justice blasted the opinion, saying it will “further inundate a political system already flush with cash, marginalize average voters, and elevate those who can afford to buy political access.”
And the non-profit Sunlight Foundation accused the court of giving “more power to special interests and a tiny percentage of the very rich.”
“By striking down the long-standing cap on total contributions individuals may give to federal candidates and political parties, the Supreme Court has permitted the unseemly spectacle of a single donor being able to contribute more than $3.5 million to one party during an election cycle (or double that, if he/she wants to hedge her bets). ”
Via Twitter, Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said: “We need govt #bythepeople, not bought and paid for by special interests.”
Several lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called for new laws to curb the Supreme Court decision’s impact.
But Club for Growth chief Chris Chocola said that with the Citizens United case and now McCutcheon, the Supreme Court “has continued to restrict the role of the federal government in limiting and regulating speech.”
“We hope further efforts to increase the ability of citizens to participate in our democracy are also successful,” he said.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner endorsed the decision.
“You all have the freedom to write what you want to write, donors ought to have the freedom to give what they want to give,” he said.
At Politico, analyst Kenneth P. Vogel said that while the case McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission removes another limit to campaign donations, there still are “plenty of laws and rules on the books.”