SCOTUS: McCutcheon v FEC Ruling Could Unleash Mega-Donors

Minimum Give the Maximum
Supreme Court could unleash mega-donors with McCutcheon v FEC Ruling

HELENA, MT – As political reporters from throughout the nation await the Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission–which many believe will be handed down as early as next week–the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ October 2013 report has renewed relevance of total campaign contribution limits in the states.

In his lawsuit, Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon challenges aggregate limits on how much money people can give to federal candidates, political parties, and PACs. Currently, the overall amount an individual can contribute in federal campaigns is $123,000, and McCutcheon claims this limits his right to free speech.

If the Court agrees with him, the ruling may–depending on how broadly it is written–prompt the dismantling of similar limits at the state level, which is what happened in 24 states after Citizens United v. FEC. In that case, the Court invalidated the federal ban on use of corporate treasury funds to pay for independent expenditures.

The Institute’s report Minimum Give the Maximum: Supreme Court could unleash mega-donors with McCutcheon ruling, outlines some rather startling facts:

  • Not even 1 percent of donors gave the maximum contribution allowed in the nine states that had aggregate limits. (2010 and 2012)

  • Only nine donors in two of those nine states gave the maximum amount allowed by state’s aggregate limit (2012).

So what does that mean?

“Most individuals don’t reach the contribution limit, let alone trigger the aggregate limit,” said the Institute’s Managing Director Denise Roth Barber. “However, absent those aggregate limits, a few very large donors who can and will give a lot will be able to have a much larger and disproportionate presence in state campaigns.”

Some proponents of erasing the aggregate limits say that larger donations by fewer donors means a candidate doesn’t have to spend as much time fundraising. Opponents fear that losing aggregate limits will dwarf contributions by smaller donors.

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