April 3 2014

McCutcheon: A Victory for Free Speech

Charlotte Hays

Best Headline of the Day:

I Fought the Law and I Won

That is the headline on a piece in Politico by Shaun McCutcheon, the Alabama businessman whose lawsuit led to the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down aggregate limits on what an individual can contribute to political campaigns.  Bravo, Mr. McCutcheon!

The American left, which is fast becoming the You-Can’t-Say-That faction, is apoplectic. The ruling means that there is less government control of how people can spend their own money to support political candidates. In other words, an individual can use more of her own money to speak freely in the political arena.

The ruling doesn’t mean a contributor can give an unlimited amount to candidates. Limits are still in place. It appears that the main change is that donors now can max out to as many candidates, party organizations and political committees as they are able and willing to go to the limit for—but limits still exist. For a good rundown on what the ruling actually means, see Chris Cillizza’s breakdown on the “winners” and “losers”in the Washington Post.

McCutcheon filed the suit, as Bradley A. Smith explains in National Review, because he wanted to give $1,1776 to a number of candidates:  

This meant that McCutcheon could make his desired contribution of $1,776 to just 27 candidates — or just 13 if he wanted to contribute that amount in both the primary and general elections. And if McCutcheon wanted to contribute the legal maximum of $2,600 in each election — or $5,200 per candidate, combining primary and general elections — he could support only nine candidates.

McCutcheon challenged the law on the eminently sensible grounds that if Congress has deemed a contribution of $2,600 per election ($5,200 per cycle) to be a non-corrupting amount, then Candidate 10 was no more corrupted by the contribution than Candidate 9. Simply put, the aggregate limits served no anti-corruption interest. And the Court has long held that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

Joel Gora, a professor of law at Brooklyn College, is probably more sympathetic to the Watergate era campaign finance reforms than many Inkwell readers, but he does explain that the ruling isn’t going to usher in new era of corruption:  

These overall biennial limits don’t prevent corruption directly — the base limits do that — but are supposed to prevent circumvention of the base limits by preventing various round-about strategies. They were upheld by the Supreme Court 40 years ago, but the law has changed a lot since then and has supplied a number of barriers to prevent circumvention.

As a result, it became harder to argue that the government’s continued use of aggregate limits was anything other than an attempt to say that some people had had enough to say about politics and it was time for them to shut up, or at least not to make anymore otherwise perfectly legal contributions to the candidates, committees or parties of their choice.

We’ve seen the left trying especially hard to silence those who disagree with them lately The IRS scandal is one instance of this, and the constant smearing of big GOP donors is another. This ruling is a victory for political discourse. That is why the left is in a Gotterdammerung mood.

One more point: the left has a huge advantage in political campaigns because the mainstream media, which pretty much still sets the agenda, despite the rise of some excellent other news sources. The mainstream media is overwhelming left and has become largely an appendage of the Democratic Party. But because most of us on the right believe in the First Amendment, we would not want to see restrictions on the free press. But the power-hungry left seems unable to stand on any principle other than expanding its sway.

So it is refreshing that Mr. McCutcheon fought the law--and won.

 

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