By Teresa Welsh |
On Oct. 8, the Supreme Court will hear about another unjustified restriction on the rights of Americans to free speech and free association. They should rule in favor of Shaun McCutcheon, a business owner from Alabama.
During the 2011-2012 election cycle, McCutcheon contributed $33,088 in congressional races across the nation. This included the symbolic amount of $1,776 to each of 15 challengers trying to unseat incumbents, well below the federal limit of $2,600 that can be contributed to federal candidates per election. McCutcheon wanted to contribute $1,776 to another 12 candidates "interested in advancing the cause of liberty." But there is also an aggregate limit on the total amount that can be given to candidates in any two-year federal election cycle of $48,600.
Due to the aggregate limit, McCutcheon was prevented from supporting and associating with candidates who "share his political philosophy, and whose message he embraced." He was punished for being too robust in his advocacy and was unable to exercise his constitutional right to make a contribution just because he had already made "too many" other constitutionally-protected contributions.
Congress set the maximum individual contribution limit at $2,600 because it decided that giving that amount or less to candidates did not raise any issues of corruption or the appearance of corruption. Under that rationale, it is completely unreasonable to claim that someone like Shaun McCutcheon can make contributions of $2,600 to 18 candidates, but if he contributes that amount to 19 candidates, it suddenly poses a danger of corrupting the election system.
Some claim that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of McCutcheon, wealthy contributors will funnel money through straw-PACs to support their picked candidates. However, federal law treats individual contributions to a PAC that have been earmarked for a particular candidate as counting against the contributor’s own $2,600 limit.
Also, contributions made by political committees established, financed, maintained or controlled by the same corporation, labor union or person are "considered to have been made by a single political committee." So if a wealthy individual sets up multiple PACs to make contributions to candidates, all of those contributions will be considered to have been made by him.
We should recognize the rights of Americans like Shaun McCutcheon to support all candidates who share their views. Aggregate limits are not a justifiable way of preventing corruption, especially when they violate the First Amendment right of Americans to engage in political advocacy and associate with those who share their ideological views.
About Hans A. Von Spakovsky Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation
Liz Kennedy Counsel at Demos
Blair Bowie Democracy Advocate at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Lawrence Norden Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University
Rick Esenberg President and General Counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty