More money, more problems

Campaign finance spending is currently out of control and only getting worse.

Luis Ruuska

In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal aggregate limits that individuals could contribute to candidates, political parties and political action committees (PACs) in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case last Wednesday.

Shaun McCutcheon challenged FEC rules that capped individual spending to a total of $123,200 per election cycle — $48,600 was the aggregate limit for candidates, and $74,600 was the aggregate limit for parties.

Because the maximum limit of spending on an individual candidate per election cycle was and remains at $2,600, a person previously could only donate to a total of 18 candidates because 19 would have exceeded the $48,600 aggregate limit.

After this ruling, however, those aggregate limits are gone, and so even though individuals can still only donate a maximum of $2,600 per candidate, they can do so for as many candidates as they wish.

By principle, the same goes for political parties and PACs. Though individuals will still be limited to spending $74,600 per party or PAC, they can donate to as many as they’d like.

Of course, this rule does not apply to so-called Super PACs, which can’t donate money directly to candidates, unlike ordinary PACs, but can raise unlimited sums of money in order to advocate for candidates.

This ruling opens the door for dangerous scenarios in which donors could effectively finance and flood a race with so many minor parties and organizations that closely align with their political beliefs that they ultimately succeed in drowning out their opponents’ message and
campaign.

The Supreme Court’s decision was split along party lines, with the conservative justices invoking the First Amendment and the right of citizens to spend their money how they see fit.

To a degree, this ruling does protect the First Amendment right of some, but it comes at the expense of the majority of Americans.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics tracks political money and found that in the 2012 elections, only about 1.3 million Americans, or less than 1 percent, donated more than $200 to federal candidates, parties and PACs.

Based on these numbers, it should come as no surprise that only about 600 Americans, 0.000002 percent of the population, hit the maximum donation limit to federal candidates in the 2012 elections.

 So, if this ruling does protect the First Amendment for Americans, it is only doing it for the 1 percent and the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

The average American’s voice is now going to be as worthless as it’s ever been.

Candidates will continue to say they are running to represent the American people, but realistically, they’re going to go the extra mile to represent those who are funding their campaigns and keeping them in office.

If this is how “democracy” in the United States is going to work from here on out, then we are no different from countries like Russia or India, where political corruption and campaign financing go hand in hand.

Only time will tell what kind of effect the McCutcheon v. FEC ruling will have on future elections, but I suspect we’re entering the next phase of big money politics, and now there’s no going back.