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April 01, 2014

ABA president concerned about recent campaign finance decision

ABA President James R. Silkenat said this month that the recent Supreme Court 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), “will result in significant additional money pouring into the campaign finance system and is bound to increase the public concern over undue influence in governmental decision making.”

The April 2 decision reversed a district court ruling and abolished limits on aggregate amounts that individuals may contribute to political candidates and political party committees on the basis that such limits violate the First Amendment. The aggregate limits struck down by the court, which were established by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, were $48,600 every two years to all federal candidates and $74,600 to political party committees. The contribution limit for individuals remains intact at $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections.

Absent the aggregate limits, Silkenat said, it will be critical to ensure that the additional money coming into campaigns is not used in a way that circumvents other contributions limits still in place and to ensure full and timely disclosure of all federal contributions and expenditures.

Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, and the Republication National Committee filed the case after McCutcheon reached the limit for contributions in the 2012 election cycle and was prevented from contributing to additional candidates. He claimed that the limits violated his constitutional right to participate in the electoral process.

In the decision, Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote for the majority that the aggregate limits did not further the only legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finance — preventing   corruption or the appearance of corruption. He also stated that contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the political process through both political expression and political association. “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,” Roberts wrote.

In a rare oral dissent from the bench, Justice Stephen G. Breyer called the decision a “disturbing development” that may well open a floodgate of contributions.

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