Jeffrey Toobin for The New Yorker: Another Citizens United – But Worse

July 30th, 2013

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The New Yorker
by Jeffrey Toobin
July 30, 2013

Think the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was bad? A worse one may be on the horizon.

To recognize the problem, it’s necessary to review some of the Court’s gnarled history on the subject of campaign finance. In Citizens United, which was decided in 2010, the Court rejected any limits on what a person or corporation (or labor union) could spend on an independent effort to help a candidate win an election. Thus the rise of Super PACs; that’s why Sheldon Adelson could spend sixty million dollars to help Mitt Romney in 2012. But, though Citizens United deregulated independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, the case said nothing about direct contributions to the candidates themselves.

That’s where the new case comes in. Current federal law allows individual donors to give up to two thousand six hundred dollars to any one candidate during a single election. In addition, they can give only an aggregate hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars to candidates, political action committees, and parties over a two-year period. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican, wants to give more money to the candidates he supports, so he has sued to invalidate the rules limiting the over-all amounts he can give. (Indeed, the patriotically minded McCutcheon wanted to give “$1,776” to enough candidates to exceed the current limits on direct contributions.) The Supreme Court will hear his case in the fall, and he has a good chance of winning.

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