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‘Citizens United 2’: Justices Could Open Individual Donor Floodgates

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could mean rich individuals would be allowed to give multimillion dollar donations to political campaigns.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could mean rich individuals would be allowed to give multimillion dollar donations to political campaigns.
October 8, 2013

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Described as a sequel to Citizens United, another case before the U.S. Supreme Court today could end one of the last big restrictions on the political influence of wealthy individuals. McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission challenges the overall limits for how much an individual donor can give in an election to federal candidates, parties, committees and PACs.

According to Common Cause staff counsel Steve Spaulding, the court could allow multimillion-dollar donations that he calls corrosive to the democracy.

"Make no mistake about it, anyone willing to pump millions of dollars into a political campaign and write a multimillion-dollar check almost certainly expects something more in return than a rubber-chicken dinner and a photo with the candidate," said Spaulding.

In McCutcheon filings, the Republican National Committee has argued that limits on total individual campaign contributions are a kind of limit on free speech. Spaulding argues that ending them would open the election process to a kind of legalized bribery.

"This case would really allow donors to open up their checkbook, and write multimillion dollar checks at the behest of one candidate soliciting the contribution – certainly with one donor expecting something in return," he said.

In West Virginia, after Massey CEO Don Blankenship funded a state Supreme Court race, state lawmakers put in place a public financing system for judicial campaigns. That system rewards candidates who accept spending limits and demonstrate an ability to raise small donations. Spaulding believes federal elections need similar rules.

"We need a system that empowers small donors, so that their campaign contributions matter; so that our candidates are talking to their constituents and not inside-the-Beltway lobbyists and those with the deepest pockets."

The court's Citizens United decision permits corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on ads from outside a campaign. Depending on what the court does, Spaulding warns that the McCutcheon case could open a direct channel for wealthy individuals. And, while some limits spending could survive, he predicts the money could slip around so easily as to render them meaningless.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV