Since the Citizens United and SpeechNow decisions, politicians and political parties have struggled under self-imposed campaign finance laws that once gave them total dominance over the political sphere. Although lauded as anti-corruption measures, strict campaign finance laws mainly prevented political insurgents from gaining enough of a voice to seriously challenge incumbents.
Without a corruption nexus and with their newly restored constitutional protections, outside groups have become significant political players and serious rivals to the traditional party establishment. As a result, politicians and political parties are in the process of dismantling many of the regulations that they once used to achieve their dominance.
One such restriction is a limit on aggregate contributions. Currently set at $117,000 per election cycle, the limit is facing two Supreme Court challenges.
The case challenging the aggregate contribution limit, known as McCutcheon v. FEC, is one of twin constitutional challenges now pending before the Supreme Court, both of which seek to invalidate aggregate limits on federal campaign contributions. The government was set to file a response Feb. 4 in the other case, known as James v. FEC, which focuses solely on the cap on contributions to federal candidates.
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Nine groups—including Americans for Campaign Reform, Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Demos, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG—said in a Jan. 17 letter to senators that they oppose efforts to either repeal or increase the limits on contributions to the political parties and the limits on the aggregate amounts that an individual can give to parties and candidates.
“Either action would provide dangerous new opportunities to buy and sell influence in Washington and to corrupt government decisions and federal officeholders,” the letter said.
CCP filed James v. FEC earlier this year on the premise that supporting many candidates is hardly corrupting for any one politician or party. It’s time our campaign finance system lived up to the protections enshrined in the First Amendment, rather than wallowing in its current role as a political bargaining chip.