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Supremes Could Decide Sky's the Limit for Campaign Donations

February 19, 2014

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Another major Supreme Court decision on campaign finance could come as early as next week.

In McCutcheon v. the Federal Elections Commission, Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon says his First Amendment rights are violated when he can't give $2,600 donations to as many parties and candidates for federal office as he pleases.

While the case concerns limits in federal election campaigns, it is being closely watched by Ken Krayeske, administrator at the New Haven Democracy Fund.

"What are the ripple effects of McCutcheon?" he asked. "We're concerned that if the Supreme Court ends limits, then is the limit of $1,000 on a mayoral campaign in Connecticut going to fall by the wayside as well?"

Krayeske said so few people can afford to give the maximum $2,600 in both a primary and general election that he believes removing the limit will only increase the imbalance in the election process. He said it also would make it more difficult for candidates who accept public funding to keep pace with their challengers.

Trevor Burrus, a fellow at the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies, said his group sides with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who favors ending all restrictions on political donations.

"I do not think the danger of protecting the voice of the 'little guy' is something the federal government, or any government, should be involved in," he said. "It's not a First Amendment concern that there are people out there who speak louder than other people and have more influence."

Burrus added that the amount of time politicians have to devote to fundraising keeps them from doing their jobs.

But Emma Boorboor, a democracy associate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said support is building to keep limits in place from labor, faith, environmental and other groups.

"All groups are seeing how the issue of big money in elections affects the issues they work on," she said. "So, the more that special interests and corporations are able to spend money to influence the outcome of elections, the harder it's going to be to make progress on the issues that people really care about."

These groups also would like to see the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision overturned. In that ruling, the court said corporations and unions should be viewed as people and the money they spend on elections as a form of protected free speech.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - CT