The Supreme Court is contemplating removing the limit on individual campaign contributions at the federal level. If the panel’s earlier decision to lift the ban on corporate giving is any indication, the odds aren’t bad that’s what will happen.
Right now, individuals are limited to giving a total of $123,000 — in any two-year election cycle. That already seems like a lot. For conservative Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, who with the Republican National Committee brought the lawsuit, it isn’t nearly enough and tramples on his constitutional right to free speech.
But opponents contend that without some restraint on total contributions, the amount of personal giving by one individual could rise to $3.7 million. Anyone who provides a single candidate, or even a small group of them, with that much money is aiming to buy more than just good government. Obviously, money buys access and access is power.
While the average American may get a polite response from an assistant when writing to a representative of Congress about a pressing problem, someone donating this much money merely picks up the phone or walks through the lawmaker’s office door as though he or she owns the place — a reality.
In a brief to the court, U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. said: “A system in which an individual can provide millions of dollars — potentially in response to direct solicitations from the president and members of Congress — to finance parties and their candidates would substantially replicate the Watergate era and soft money systems that resulted in well-documented instances of corruption and apparent corruption.”
And Fred Wertheimer, who first with Common Cause and then with Democracy 21 has waged a good fight for years to cut the influence of money on politics, predicted in a statement to The Washington Post that the court might set the stage for eliminating any restraints on contributions. That would “take us back to the 1870s and the era of robber barons,” Wertheimer said. Obviously, he based that estimate on the fact that the court’s conservative wing — which gave us the 2010 Citizens United decision eliminating the barrier to corporate giving — is still intact.