Today, in the much-anticipated case of McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court threw out aggregate limits on campaign contributions. In a nutshell, what this means is that you still can only donate $2,600 to any particular candidate, but the two-year overall limit of $123,200 in total donations is gone. The vote was 5-4 (surprise!), with Justice Thomas writing separately to state his view that the whole system should be blown up, and he didn’t join Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion because, in his view, it didn’t go far enough. Justice Breyer (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan) filed a vigorous dissent: “Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve…. The result, as I said at the outset, is a decision that substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.”
Obviously, this decision directly affects only the very, very wealthy, since they are the only ones likely to want to blow through more than a hundred grand in political donations every couple of years. So, really, what could go wrong?
I haven’t yet read the opinion, but one imagines that a direct challenge to whatever is left of Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld the individual campaign contributions in the 1970s, is soon to come, and unless the membership of the Supreme Court changes between now and then, those limits seem likely to suffer the same fate as the aggregate limits did today.