The Supreme Court’s election-buying decision in Citizens United v. FEC enabled wealthy corporations to spend unlimited money to change the course of American elections, and a subsequent lower court decision gave the green light to super PACs funded by unlimited donations from millionaires, billionaires and corporations. Today, the Supreme Court announced it would hear another case — brought by none other than the Republican National Committee — that would go even further towards transforming American democracy into the Wild West.
Despite recent election-buying decisions permitting unlimited donations to super PACs and other groups that exist independently of campaigns and political parties, federal law still limits individual donations to candidates and to the parties themselves. In the next election cycle, these limits include a $2,600 cap on individual donations to a single candidate, and an overall limit of $123,200 in contributions to candidates, political party committees and similar organizations. The Republican Party’s lawsuit seeks to eliminate most of these limits on election-buying — most importantly, by removing the $123,200 cap on total contributions.
As the unanimous lower court decision upholding this cap explained, removing it would corrupt our election system even more by allowing billionaires to launder as much money as they want through political party committees to individual candidates:
Eliminating the aggregate limits means an individual might, for example, give half-a-million dollars in a single check to a joint fundraising committee comprising a party’s presidential candidate, the party’s national party committee, and most of the party’s state party committees. After the fundraiser, the committees are required to divvy the contributions to ensure that no committee receives more than its permitted share, but because party committees may transfer unlimited amounts of money to other party committees of the same party, the half-a-million-dollar contribution might nevertheless find its way to a single committee’s coffers. That committee, in turn, might use the money for coordinated expenditures, which have no “significant functional difference” from the party’s direct candidate contributions. The candidate who knows the coordinated expenditure funding derives from that single large check at the joint fundraising event will know precisely where to lay the wreath of gratitude.
Significantly, this opinion was written by Judge Janice Rogers Brown, who is one of the most conservative judges in the country. Brown previously authored an opinion suggesting that all labor, business or Wall Street regulation is constitutionally suspect, and she once compared liberalism to “slavery” and Social Security to a “socialist revolution.”
As a lower court judge, however, Brown was also required to follow Supreme Court precedents. The five conservative justices who gave us Citizens United, by contrast, are not.