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Reid Contributor Hopes to Toss Remaining Campaign Finance Limits

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A man convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would like to make a nightmare of one of the Nevada Democrat’s top lieutenants come true — by eliminating all campaign contribution limits.  

Senate Rules Chairman Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., reacted to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, tossing aggregate campaign contribution limits by telling reporters “the implications of this particular decision are significant but not huge, but the direction that the court is heading in is just dramatic and just dark.”  

Schumer expressed a view that, in essence, the only thing keeping the Supreme Court from tossing the caps on individual contributions to candidates was that they fell outside the scope of the McCutcheon case.  

In a bit of irony perhaps, the same day that the Supreme Court issued the decision in the McCutcheon case, attorneys for Nevada developer and lobbyist Harvey Whittemore filed an appellate brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of the Appeals, seeking to overturn a federal conviction on illegal campaign contributions. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that Wednesday was the deadline for Whittemore’s filing.  

Whittemore was convicted last year on charges stemming from using straw intermediaries to get around the individual contribution limit of $4,600 in effect in 2007, for contributions to Reid’s campaign.  

Among other arguments, Whittemore’s lawyers are contending on appeal that individual limits run afoul of free speech protections in the First Amendment, arguing that the ruling in the Citizens United case allowing unlimited super PAC contributions rendered moot the “legitimate interest” of individual limits in the Supreme Court finding in the landmark Buckley v. Valeo case.  

If Whittemore’s case gets to the Supreme Court, it could provide the justices with an opportunity to strike down the remaining individual contribution limits.  

Whittemore’s brief contends:

The only distinction between these two contributions is the identity of the candidate supported. The first candidate has a Super PAC, the second does not. The identity of the candidate and the positions supported by that candidate speech embodied by the donations themselves. Allowing unlimited donations to a Super PAC while restricting the identical political speech made by individuals that support a candidate without a Super PAC, which is made in the same fashion (the donation of money) with the same objective (the election of a candidate), serves to enhance, rather than curtail, the specter of corruption surrounding federal elections. By treating different candidates and their supporters unequally, the law in its current form empowers the executive branch to criminalize one form of speech, such as that allegedly attributable to Mr. Whittemore, while immunizing functionally identical speech from prosecution.

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