Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, center right, talks with clergy after the Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013. The Supreme Court's new term starts tomorrow, Monday, Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Supreme Court weighs limits on campaign contributions
First Published Oct 07 2013 07:54 am • Last Updated Oct 07 2013 01:35 pm

Washington • In its first major campaign finance case since the Citizens United ruling in 2010, the Supreme Court is considering whether to undo some limits on contributions from the biggest individual givers to political campaigns.

The justices will hear arguments Tuesday, the second day of their new term, in a dispute between the Obama administration and Republicans who are challenging the contribution limits as a violation of First Amendment rights.

Photos
Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Supporters of campaign finance laws say the case poses a threat to the contribution limits that Congress first enacted in 1974, in the wake of Watergate abuses.

In 2010, the 5-4 ruling in Citizens United freed corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they wish on campaign advocacy, as long as it is independent of candidates and their campaigns. That decision did not affect contribution limits to individual candidates, political parties and political action committees.

Now, Republican activist Shaun McCutcheon of Hoover, Ala., the national Republican party and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky want the court to overturn the overall limits on what contributors may give in a two-year federal election cycle. The total is $123,200, including a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates, for 2013 and 2014.

The partisan-tinged campaign finance case comes to the court amid a tense stalemate over the federal budget that has shuttered parts of the government, but so far has not affected the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts formally opened the new term Monday without any reference to the shutdown. The court has announced it will operate normally at least through the end of this week.

Among the appeals denied Monday was Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s request to review a federal appeals court ruling that threw out the state’s ban on oral and anal sex. Ten years ago, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law in a case involving two adults. Virginia argued that the Texas ruling did not apply to sex acts between adults and minors. The case stemmed from the case of a man convicted of violating the Virginia sodomy statute for demanding oral sex from a 17-year-old girl. That came after the Texas decision. The justices did not comment in rejecting the argument.

The court also declined to hear, at least for now, Argentina’s appeal of a ruling that orders it to pay hedge funds that bought up some of the country’s unpaid debt from its default in 2001. The country is continuing to pursue its case in federal court in New York and could file another appeal with the Supreme Court.

The campaign finance case being argued Tuesday would not affect the current $2,600 limit on individual contributions to any candidate for Congress, in any given election.


story continues below
story continues below

McCutcheon, owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corp. in McCalla, Ala., said he will spend a few hundred thousand dollars in the current election cycle, including large donations to so-called super PACs that are not affiliated with candidates.

McCutcheon gave the symbolically significant $1,776 to 15 candidates for Congress and wanted to give the same amount to 12 others. But doing so would have put him in violation of the cap.

"It’s a very important case about your right to spend your money how you choose," he said.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. told the court that donors "could potentially funnel massive amounts of money to a favored candidate," in the absence of the overall limit. One donor, giving the maximum allowed to every congressional candidate, political party and political action committee, he said, would exceed $3 million in contributions in a single election cycle.

The Republican challengers are asking the court to take an even more aggressive approach than merely overturning these particular limits. McConnell is leading the charge to urge the justices to ditch their practice over nearly 40 years of evaluating limits on contributions less skeptically than restrictions on spending.

The differing levels of scrutiny have allowed the court to uphold most contribution limits, because of the potential for corruption in large direct donations to candidates. At the same time, the court has found that independent spending does not pose the same risk of corruption and has applied a higher level of scrutiny to laws that seek to limit spending.

If the court were to drop the distinction between contributions and expenditures, even the per election contribution limit of $2,600 to any candidate for Congress would be threatened, said Fred Wertheimer, a longtime supporter of stringent campaign finance laws.

"This is not about some abstract concept of aggregate limits. It’s about re-establishing a system where huge contributions can be given directly to benefit candidates and parties and it will create opportunities for the corruption of governmental decisions," said Wertheimer, president of the nonpartisan Democracy 21 group.

In recent years, opponents of campaign finance laws have won a string of victories, typically by a 5-to-4 vote with the court’s conservative justices in the majority. Their winning streak dates to the replacement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who often voted to uphold campaign limits, by Justice Samuel Alito, who is far more skeptical of the restrictions.

O’Connor was in the courtroom Monday for the start of the new term.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.