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Ear to the Ground

SCOTUS Hands Big Money Another Big Win With Campaign Finance Ruling

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Posted on Apr 2, 2014

  “Equal Justice Under ... ” oh, screw it. Kjetil Ree (CC-BY-SA)

On Wednesday the United States Supreme Court further loosened restrictions on campaign funding, adding momentum to the money = speech (not to mention corporations are people too) rationale exemplified by the top court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010.

The nine presiding justices split their 5-4 vote along predictable lines in their decision about McCutcheon v. FEC, which lifts overall limits on aggregate campaign contributions from individual donors. Some restrictions still apply when it comes to the amount, for example, that backers can give to one particular candidate for federal office—that figure remains set at $2,600. But that’s cold comfort considering the full scope of what Wednesday’s judicial gesture signifies for future election cycles.

Supporters like Chief Justice John Roberts held that the ruling represents a win for First Amendment rights, in that the act of ponying up cash for an array of candidates and causes during election season is a form of free speech—putting your money where your mouth is, indeed. However, detractors believe the Republican-backed McCutcheon case spells trouble for a democratic system increasingly colonized by the interests of corporations and ever deeper-pocketed campaign bankrollers.

The Washington Post put together this handy McCutcheon v. FEC primer with a video illustrating the stakes and consequences of the judgment. Meanwhile, the BBC delivered this report from across the pond:

Four years ago, the Supreme Court lifted limits on political spending by political action committees, in a landmark case known as Citizens United.

Last year the court removed restrictions on states with a history of race-biased voting laws.

That prompted activists to say the court was making it harder to vote in but easier to buy elections.

Wednesday’s decision split the court along its liberal and conservative wings, with Justice Stephen Breyer taking the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.

He wrote: “Taken together with [Citizens United], today’s decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican and owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corporation in Alabama.

As far as hangovers from the Bush II era go—i.e., stacking the SCOTUS deck with Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito—this one is pretty ferocious. As Truthdig’s Bill Blum put it, the McCutcheon case speaks to a “right-wing legal ideology that has found a particularly receptive home in the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts.” Read the rest of Blum’s prescient column here.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

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