The Future of Campaign Finance


On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case contesting the constitutionality of federal limitations on individual contributions to political candidates and parties.

Shaun McCutcheon, the president of Coalmont Electrical Development and the treasurer of a super PAC called the “Conservative Action Fund”, has been at the forefront of this effort to challenge campaign finance regulations, arguing that campaign finance regulations violate the First Amendment by limiting individual freedom of speech.

Campaign finance laws currently cap individual donations to federal candidates at $46,200 (per two year cycle). It is worth note that the US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of campaign limits in 1971, a decision which was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, by agreeing to hear this case, the Supreme Court is restarting a national conversation about the role of money in political campaigns just three years after the Citizens United ruling.

Since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor left the Court and was replaced by the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the Court has adopted a generally more hostile attitude toward campaign finance regulations. Indeed, the Court under Justice John Roberts has voted to limit or strike down every campaign finance law which it has considered over the past seven years. As such, the McCutcheon case is likely to meet a fairly receptive audience. Should the Supreme Court rule in McCutcheon’s favor, this would mark the first time a court has overturned a part of the landmark Buckley decision.

However, in the event that McCutcheon v. FEC strikes down these regulations, how much would such a decision change the post-Citizens United elections of today? After all, the question presented in this case is a limited one, only applying to the aggregate, two year cap; annual contribution limits would still be in place even if McCutcheon wins.

After Citizens United, the role of big money in elections has perhaps pinnacled, and while this case might go one step further in delimiting campaign donations, we must come to terms with the fact that regardless of how the Court rules, super-PACs are here to stay.

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