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The Supreme Court to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission in October

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a case whose impact on our political system could be as damaging as Citizens United, is headed for the US Supreme Court October 8, and it could dramatically boost the corrupting influence of the wealthy over candidates in federal elections.
The court will consider whether to eliminate the limit on the total sum that people can give directly to candidates and political parties in a single election. The current overall limit for an individual making direct contributions to parties, political action committees (PACs) and federal candidates is $123,200 per two-year election cycle, but a win for the challengers in McCutcheon could allow total contributions above $7 million.
The McCutcheon suit was brought by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC). In challenging the current law, McCutcheon says he made direct contributions to 16 federal candidates in recent elections and wanted to give the same amounts to 12 more. Those additional contributions would have put him over the aggregate limit for candidate contributions in an election cycle, which in 2012 was $46,200 to federal candidates, made up of individual contributions of no more than $2,600 (or $5,200 in a two-year election cycle comprising a primary and general election). He also says he wanted to give $25,000 to each of the three Republican national political committees, which would have put him over the $70,800 limit then in effect for party committees.
McCutcheon, together with the RNC, is claiming that these aggregate limitations violate the First Amendment and that if contributions at the current base limits of $2,600 per election for individual candidates and $32,400 a year per party committee are not enough to corrupt politicians (a standard by which the Supreme Court has judged such cases), then a larger number of contributions in those amounts also would not lead to corruption. The RNC says it would receive additional contributions from people like McCutcheon if it were not for the aggregate limits.
The challengers’ argument ignores the close relationship among the political parties and their candidates, and the way they work hand-in-hand to ask for and receive donations from large contributors. Already, candidates and parties routinely form joint fundraising committees to solicit the largest contributions permitted by the aggregate limits, which are then divided up among the candidates and party committees making the ask. Without the aggregate limits, officeholders, candidates and party officials could solicit multimillion-dollar donations, to be divided up among the parties’ various national and state committees and candidates, and used for their common benefit.
“Citizens United is bad enough in allowing big-money interests to spend large sums in support of candidates,” said Public Citizen attorney Scott Nelson. “But at least those spenders must maintain an arm’s length distance from the candidates and parties. If McCutcheon and the RNC prevail, political parties and their candidates would be able to ask for, and receive, huge donations directly from contributors, maximizing the opportunities for corrupt bargains to be struck.”
For four decades, Public Citizen has championed citizen interests before Congress, the executive branch agencies, and the courts. To learn more, visit its website at www.citizen.org.

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