US Supreme Court strikes down caps on campaign donations

WASHINGTON (TIP): The US Supreme Court on April 2 struck down a key pillar of campaign finance law by allowing wealthy donors to give money to as many political candidates, parties and committees as they wish. On a 5-4 vote, the court struck down the overall limits on how much individuals can donate during the federal two-year election cycle.

Before the ruling, donors could not exceed a $123,200 overall limit during the two-year period. The ruling allows donors to contribute nearly $6 million in the same period, according to public advocacy groups. Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision is the latest in a series of rulings by the conservative-led court to give bigmoney donors more influence in US elections. Republicans, who generally favor lifting finance limits, hailed the decision.

Democrats typically argue for tighter restrictions, fearing that wealthy individuals could otherwise hold undue influence over the political process. The ruling leaves in place base limits on how much a donor can give each candidate, committee and party, limiting the scope of the decision. In the current two-year election cycle (2013-14), an individual can give $2,600 to each candidate or committee and $32,400 to a national political party. Election lawyers said the ruling means wealthy donors can give to more candidates ahead of this November’s mid-term congressional elections than was previously allowed.

The court said the aggregate limits violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects free speech. The majority rejected the contention of President Barack Obama’s administration that the limits are needed to fight corruption. The caps “do little, if anything, to address that concern, while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican.

“What I think this means is that freedom of speech is being upheld,” Republican John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, told reporters. Fred Wertheimer, an advocate for campaign finance limits, said the court had “continued its march to destroy the nation’s campaign finance laws, which were enacted to prevent corruption and protect the integrity of our democracy.” The 5-4 split was along party lines, with the five justices appointed by Republican presidents joining the majority and the four appointed by Democratic presidents dissenting.

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The decision comes four years after the court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that cleared the way for increased independent corporate and union spending during federal elections. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said the ruling, along with Citizens United, “eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws.” Laws that require candidates, parties and political action committees to disclose information about donors are also not affected.

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