In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s elimination of aggregate campaign contribution limits, ex-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich asserted that striking down all campaign finance limits would actually put the middle class and the wealthy on equal footing. During his Sunday appearance on ABC’s This Week, Gingrich argued “candidates should be allowed to take unlimited amounts of money from anybody, and you would overnight equalize the middle class and the rich.”
Gingrich would have liked the Supreme Court to go even further than it did last week in McCutcheon v. FEC, when the Court ruled that a donation cap of $123,200 to federal candidates and political committees during a given election cycle is unconstitutional. Donors, while still limited to $2,600 in contributions to individual candidates, can spend as much as they want overall to affect as many election outcomes as they like.
Gingrich’s comments, which echo the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas in McCutcheon, are couched in the idea that restrictions on contributions to individual candidates pave the way for wealthy donors to control the election cycle. However, allowing unlimited contributions to candidates would do the exact opposite of what Gingrich purportedly hopes to accomplish. Campaign donation limits are obstacles only to an elite “1% of the 1%,” as the Sunlight Foundation deems the nation’s wealthiest donors. The restrictions barely — if at all — affect middle-class voters. Out of the $6 billion in donations from the previous election cycle, approximately a quarter of it came from just over 30,000 people. Eliminating campaign finance law and redirecting donations directly to candidates merely would inject more money in the system coming from the same influential sources.
Studies already show that lower-income people are losing influence on elections, and Gingrich’s proposal would worsen the impact of economic inequality on electoral inequality. While he claims that the removal of campaign restrictions will democratize the process, his proposal would in fact enable even more influence for wealthy political figures — and would likely benefit Gingrich himself directly.
One such elite donor, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, almost singlehandedly kept Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign afloat. The Adelson-backed Winning Our Future Super PAC spent $25 million to support Gingrich before his primary loss to Mitt Romney.
Unlimited political contributions would also clear the way for profiteering and profile-building by Gingrich himself. Gingrich controls a slew of consulting and communications businesses used by candidates. The Republican National Committee paid Gingrich’s production studio $9,500 for media services, according to a 2013 filing. Campaign finance law still limits contributions to the RNC, but without it, Gingrich could see even more money for his business or political interests.