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Supremes Could Decide Sky's the Limit for Campaign Donations

February 24, 2014

WASHINGTON - Another major Supreme Court decision on campaign finance could come this week.

In McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission, an Alabama businessman says his First Amendment rights are being violated when he can't give $2,600 donations to as many parties and candidates for federal office as he wants. Groups working to "get money out of politics" hope the high court rules against him. Others, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the libertarian Cato Institute, favor an end to 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," said Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at Cato's Center for Constitutional Studies. "It's not a First Amendment concern that there are people out there who speak louder than other people and have more influence."

All the time that politicians have to devote to fundraising keeps them from doing their jobs, said Burrus, who added that he'd like to see an end to all limits on donations to candidates, parties and political action committees.

Efficient as it might be for a very few donors to fund much larger portions of campaigns, Emma Boorboor, a democracy associate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said the current overall limit is "plenty" already; at $123,000, it's almost double the median family income.

"Absent this limit," she said, "one wealthy donor would be permitted to contribute more than $3.5 million to a single party's candidates and party committees in one election cycle."

Boorboor 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 are people, and money they spend on elections is a form of protected free speech.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD