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Supreme Court to Take Up Contribution Limits Challenge

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In a move with significant campaign finance implications, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider a challenge to the aggregate limit on how much an individual may donate to political players each election cycle.

In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Republican National Committee has joined an Alabama man in challenging the limits that block an individual from giving more than $46,200 to candidates as a whole and more than $70,800 collectively to parties and political action committees in any two-year election cycle.

Alabama political donor Shaun McCutcheon does not challenge the constitutionality of the limits on direct contributions to candidates, which now stand at $2,600 for a primary or general election or $5,200 for a two-year election cycle. But he has set out to overturn limits enacted in 1974, and upheld in the Supreme Court’s landmark 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, on the aggregate amount that a donor may give to candidates, parties and PACs in a cycle.

The case has important implications not only for the issue of aggregate limits, but for the broader question of whether the court will uphold the decades-old cap on contributions to candidates, wrote law professor Rick Hasen on his Election Law blog. A professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, Hasen noted that a ruling in McCutcheon’s favor would mark the first time the high court reversed a portion of Buckley v. Valeo.

In its 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling, the Supreme Court threw out limits in independent corporate and union spending but upheld restrictions on direct donations to candidates. Challenges to those individual contribution limits are also working their way through the courts, however. If the high court rules that the aggregate contribution limits are unconstitutional, it may set the stage for further campaign finance deregulation.

The McCutcheon case has “enormous consequences for the country,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer in a statement. Absent the aggregate limit, he added, any “federal office holder or candidate would be free to solicit, and an individual free to contribute a single check to a national party of $1,194,000 for a two-year election cycle.”

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