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Apr. 4, 2014

A First Amendment Victory

The Supreme Court dispatches some campaign finance restrictions.

As is often the case, a 5-4 majority decided a key Supreme Court case. But that one vote restored a portion of the idea that political speech should be unfettered by government, in this case striking down arbitrary federal limits on overall individual campaign contributions. While the current federal maximum of $5,200 for specific candidates remains in place, the Court threw out the overall limit of $48,600.

Based on the caterwauling by the Left, though, you’d think McCutcheon v. FEC was the second coming of the Dred Scott decision. (In fact, one Senate candidate did liken the two.) Playing the class envy card was the Sunlight Foundation, which whined that the “Citizens United ruling four years ago opened up the floodgates for unlimited spending in our elections, and now it might as well have tied a big bow around Congress and deliver it to the one percent.”

As a pot decrying the kettle, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten cried, “We once had rules that allowed everyone a fair shot at the American dream and access to democracy, but now access to government is reserved for the most powerful and influential with millions and millions of dollars to buy elections.” Never mind that over the last quarter-century the AFT was one of the largest political donors, spending the vast majority of its $37 million on Democrats. Or that the National Education Association, its larger sibling, is the third largest political donor. Republicans aren’t exactly raking it in there, either.

With the McCutcheon ruling, the Supreme Court comes a step closer to undoing the damage done to free speech by onerous campaign finance laws. It’s obvious that the Left liked the system because the list of top donors revealed by the OpenSecrets website shows most donate primarily to Democrats. The right-wing donor most demonized by Democrats like Harry Reid, Koch Industries, comes in all the way down at number 59; meanwhile, 10 of the top 15 donors are heavily invested in Democrat candidates.

But even if the tables were turned, the idea of limiting speech is out of step with this court. As Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out, “If there is no corruption concern in giving nine candidates up to $5,200 each, it is difficult to understand how a tenth candidate can be regarded as corruptible if given $1,801, and all others corruptible if given a dime.” We don’t get the connection either. Roberts also wrote, “An aggregate limit on how many candidates and committees an individual may support through contributions is not a ‘modest restraint’ at all” on protected political speech. “The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.” So how then is it constitutional for the government to dictate how much an individual can gift any one candidate?

The most important point is this: The First Amendment was designed primarily to protect political speech, of which campaign donations are a major part. Congress – and the Court – should remember that.

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