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Fred Wertheimer: Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Constitutional Challenge to Critically Important Federal Contribution Limit Previously Upheld in Court's Buckley Decision


By: Democracy 21

Feb. 19, 2013 - Statement of Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a new campaign finance case with enormous consequences for the country.

McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission involves the limit on total contributions from an individual to all federal candidates, party committees and PACs in a two-year election cycle. The aggregate contribution limit was enacted in 1974 and upheld by the Supreme Court in the Buckley case.

The aggregate limit on contributions by individuals is necessary to prevent circumvention of the limits on contributions to candidates and political parties and the prohibition on federal officeholders soliciting huge corrupting contributions.

If the Supreme Court reverses its past ruling in Buckley, the Court would do extraordinary damage to the nation's ability to prevent the corruption of federal officeholders and government decisions. It would also represent the first time in history that the Court declared a federal contribution limit unconstitutional.

Absent the aggregate overall limit on contributions by an individual, President Obama, House Speaker Boehner or any other federal officeholder 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.[1]

The national party in turn could spend the entire million dollar-plus donation to support the officeholder who solicited the donation from the contributor.

Similarly, President Obama, House Speaker Boehner or any other federal officeholder or candidate could solicit, and an individual could contribute a single check of as much as $2,433,600 to be divided up among every federal candidate in their party running for Congress.[2]

This would open the door to $1 million and $2 million dollar contributions from an individual buying corrupting influence with a powerful officeholder soliciting these contributions, and with the political party and federal candidates benefiting from these seven figure contributions.

Justice Kennedy clearly recognized the danger of corruption in such circumstances in his concurring opinion in McConnell v. FEC. In supporting the constitutionality of the ban on federal officeholders and candidates soliciting soft money, Justice Kennedy stated:

I agree with the Court that the broader solicitation regulation does further a sufficient interest. The making of a solicited gift is a quid both to the recipient of the money and to the one who solicits the payment (by granting his request). Rules governing candidates. or officeholders solicitation of contributions are, therefore, regulation governing their receipt of quids. This regulation fits under Buckley's anticorruption rationale.

Democracy 21 joined the Campaign Legal Center in filing a successful amicus brief defending the constitutionality of the aggregate contribution limit before a three-judge district court panel in the McCutcheon case.

The Democracy 21 pro bono legal team, led by former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, will file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court to defend the aggregate individual contribution limit. We will also join with the Campaign Legal Center to help coordinate amicus briefs from other interested organizations to defend the constitutionality of the contribution limit.

[1] Through the use of a joint fundraising committee involving national and state party committees, the single contribution would include $32,400 per year to each of the three national party committees, or $97,200 per year combined, and $10,000 per year to each of the 50 state parties, or $500,000 per year combined, for an overall total of $597,200 per year and an overall total of $1,194,000 for a two-year election cycle. Since parties committees can make unlimited internal transfers to other party committees, the joint fundraising committee could first distribute all of the money to each of the separate party committees involved and then could have it all come back to the national party committee in one electronic transaction.

[2] Through the use of a joint fundraising committee involving the committees of every candidate for Congress from a single party, a single individual contribution of $2,433,600 would include $5,200 for the primary and general election of 435 House candidates and 33 Senate candidates.



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