In a long-awaited ruling in the case known as McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court struck the aggregate limit on campaign contributions as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. Significantly, the high court left in place the base limit on how much individuals and political action committees may give to candidates and political parties. But today’s ruling makes a challenge to that direct contribution limit, which stands at $2,600 per election for an individual.
What the court overturned was the overall limit on the amount that one individual may give to candidates, parties and PACs in a two-year election cycle, a cap that now stands at $123,000. Republican businessman Shaun McCutcheon had challenged the aggregate limit on the grounds that giving the same amount to a larger number of candidates would not invite corruption.
In an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who had been considered the swing vote in the case, the Supreme Court agreed. As in its landmark Citizens United v. FEC ruling in 2010, the Court concluded that limits on political money may only pass constitutional muster if they present a direct threat of quid pro quo corruption — a high bar that signals this court will remain receptive to future challenges to the few campaign restrictions that remain.
“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” wrote Roberts. Quoting from the Citizens United ruling opinion that “ingratiation and access … are not corruption,” Roberts went on to state: “Any regulation must instead target that we have called ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money.” Conservatives on and off Capitol Hill hailed the ruling as a victory for the First Amendment.