The Roberts Court has not done enough to help the Republican Party raise massive-dollar donations from very wealthy donors, according to Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus. The RNC chair called for even more campaign finance law to be torn down during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.
With its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court unleashed a flood of money from wealthy donors into American elections — so long as this money is given to “independent” groups such as super PACS, the five conservative justices claimed, it does not “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” Since this decision, “outside spending in federal elections has increased markedly — as much as 245% in presidential elections, 662% in House elections, and 1338% in Senate election” — and more than 70 percent of the outside spending in the 2012 cycle came from conservative groups.
Last week, the Court’s conservatives expanded upon their decision in Citizens United by eliminating a $123,200 cap on the total amount of money wealthy donors can give to candidates and political party organizations. Notably, the Republican National Committee was a plaintiff in that lawsuit.
And yet, according to Priebus, the Roberts Court hasn’t done enough to enable rich people to influence elections.
After the Republican victory in last week’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the $123,200 limit on total donations to candidates and parties is dead, but limits on how much a wealthy individual can give to a particular candidate ($5,200) or to the RNC itself ($32,400) remain in place. Moreover, although the McCutcheon decision effectively legalized several money laundering schemes that will enable a single rich donor to channel a few million dollars to contested races, it is unlikely that those schemes could be used to launder tens or hundreds of millions of dollars from a single donor. So if Priebus wants casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who spent about $150 million in to help elect Republicans in 2012, to write a nine-figure check to the RNC, he is currently out of luck.
This, according to Priebus, is a problem. During his interview with Hewitt, the RNC chair claimed that we should not “have caps at all” — so if Adelson wants to write a single $100 million check to the RNC he should have the right to do so. And then Adelson went after one of the few remaining categories of campaign finance laws that were explicitly endorsed by Citizens United and McCutcheon — disclosure laws. According to Priebus,
You’ve got now groups that are targeting people viciously, both businesses and individuals, because their names are disclosed. I mean, you want to be for disclosure. But when you start to see some of the cases out there where people are targeted, and businesses are targeted and picketed and threatened for political contributions, then now you’re suppressing free speech through disclosure.
Priebus’s decision to tell tales of donors being harassed for their political donations is not exactly surprising. The Citizens United opinion held that a campaign finance disclosure law “would be unconstitutional as applied to an organization if there were a reasonable probability that the group’s members would face threats, harassment, or reprisals if their names were disclosed.” So Priebus is prying on a crack that the justices already created for him. In the world Priebus seems to be advocating for, however, Adelson could not just write a $100 million check to the RNC, he could do so anonymously.