On April 2, 2014, the United States Supreme Court struck down a cap on the total amount one individual can contribute to Federal candidates in a two year election cycle. This decision, with a new round of elections in the immediate future, will open the floodgates for “money talks” politics in the United States. The reasoning behind the Court’s decision is free exercise of First Amendment rights, including free speech in the form of campaign contributions.
The decision (McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536) did not effect base limits on individual contributions to candidates, currently $2,600.00 per candidate. But the overall limits of $48,600.00 every two years for contributions to all Federal candidates and the current limit of $74,600.00 every two years to political parties was struck down. Justice Steven G. Breyer, in the minority, said the decision would allow “a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or a candidate’s campaign.”
Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that “the government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.” The Chief Justice did not recognize as legally significant “the possibility that an individual who spends larger sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties.”
Rejecting the decision from his minority position, Justice Breyer said the decision was one “that substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence brought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.”
Time will tell how the decision will impact upcoming elections, but the impact will potentially be great.