Read the Newest Court Ruling That Shreds Campaign Finance Limits

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 25 2013 12:59 PM

Read the Newest Court Ruling That Shreds Campaign Finance Limits

It's an A1 New York Times story, but I'm not seeing this story about a campaign finance-gutting decision being talked about elsewhere. That's strange, becuase it's not like the 2nd Circuit panel's decision to allow unlimited donations to one independent group merely looks like the case before SCOTUS. The same Alabama donor, Shaun McCutcheon, is at the center of both cases. Here, he wants to give $200,000 to the New York Progress and Protection PAC in order to run ads against all-but-certain next mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Supreme Court held in Citizens United v. FEC that the government has no anti-corruption interest in limiting independent expenditures. 558 U.S. 310, 357-61 (2010). It follows that a donor to an independent expenditure committee such as NYPPP is even further removed from political candidates and may not be limited in his ability to contribute to such committees. All federal circuit courts that have addressed this issue have so held... The hardship faced by NYPPP and its donors from the  denial of relief is significant. Every sum that a donor is forbidden to contribute to NYPPP because of this statute  reduces constitutionally protected political speech. Much of the district court’s analysis of hardship focuses on hardship to the election system arising from the timing of this suit and this motion for a preliminary injunction. But as the Supreme Court has emphasized, the value of political speech is at its zenith at election time.

Judge Dennis Jacobs, a George H.W. Bush appointee, makes an argument that could be heard again if SCOTUS rules for McCutcheon. The difference is that the SCOTUS case deals with donations to party committees, which are anachronistically (in the age of super PACs) capped. An argument can be made that freeing up the wealthy to fund parties would dial back the power of the outside groups. But in court, the Citizens United precedent is enough to take away limits on independent expenditures and on parties, with only individual prudence stopping the wealthy from pouring money down both spigots.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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