Should Federal Campaign Contributions by Individuals Be Limited?

The Supreme Court will examine the constitutionality of aggregate limits on donations to federal campaigns.

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The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will address campaign finance laws once again, examining the constitutionality of limiting how much individual donors can give to political campaigns and committees. The court's last decision on campaign finance came in 2010 with Citizens United, when it ruled independent campaign spending from corporations and unions can't be limited.

[ Read: Groups Fear Unlimited Spending Potential in Campaign Finance Case Headed for the Supreme Court]

The case is being brought by Shaun McCutcheon of Alabama and the Republican National Committee, who argue that the existing two-year limits on personal contributions are unconstitutional. McCutcheon didn't have a problem with current regulations restricting individual contributions, which are set at $30,800 per year to national party committees, $10,000 per year to state party committees, and $5,000 per year to other political committees; and $2,500 per election to federal candidates. Instead, he objected to separate limits of how much an individual can give aggregated over a two-year period, which currently cap contributions to candidates at $46,200 and contributions to groups at $70,800.

[ Check out our collection of political cartoons on Super PACs.]

The Supreme Court reviewed the Citizens United decision in 2012, but declined to overturn its previous ruling. Because the case allows for unlimited spending by increasingly powerful super PACs and nonprofit groups, restricting individual campaign donations has become less of an issue. The conservative Center for Competitive Politics said a decision in favor of abolishing the limits would allow political committees to regain equal footing with super PACS:

[T]he case gives the Court an opportunity to clarify an important legal question: if contribution limits to individual committees and candidates prevent corruption, what additional interest justifies aggregate contributions? Are those limits nothing more than an attempt to prevent the 'distorting' effect of money in politics, a governmental interest that ruled for the government was explicitly rejected by Citizens United?

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should There Be Less Disclosure in Campaign Finance?]

Public Campaign, a nonprofit seeking to reduce the roll of special interest money in elections, said the aggregate contribution limits should be upheld. A statement from president and CEO Nick Nyhart said:

In agreeing to hear the McCutcheon case, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to defend common sense limits on how much influence wealthy special interests can buy in Washington. In recent decisions, the Court has too often sided with big donors and against our democracy. It's time for the Court to stand up for the voices of everyday people and uphold the limits.

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