The Supreme Court ruled today finding that aggregate limits on federal campaign donations violate the First Amendment’s free speech protection. While the actual limit per candidate remains in place, the limit on how much in total can be donated throughout an election cycle has been lifted.
Report from the Washington Times:
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that wealthy donors shouldn’t be limited in how many candidates they can contribute to during an election, though the justices did leave in place the maximum donation that can be made to a single candidate.
The ruling is certain to reignite a debate over the role of money in politics and it enraged Democrats, who argue that conservatives are dismantling the campaign finance system one ruling at a time.
But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in the controlling opinion in the 5-4 ruling, said that while the government has an interest in preventing corruption of federal officeholders, individuals have political rights that include being able to give to as many candidates as they want, in order to show support.
“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” the chief justice 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.”
Under the current limit, a donor can’t give more than $123,200 to candidates, parties and political action committees. Of that, just $48,600 can go directly to candidates.
That means if someone wanted to give the maximum donation, he could only contribute to nine candidates.
Chief Justice Roberts said it made no sense that someone couldn’t give to a 10th candidate or more — and said the government didn’t offer a clear line on where corruption would come into play.
Clearly this impact will be felt in coming election cycles to some extent. Although Super PACs have already provided a vehicle for unlimited spending, the federal limits have capped what a campaign can do directly on behalf of itself.
Exit question: Is this a victory for free speech or a victory for more corruption in politics?