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Money matters

Supreme Court should uphold limits on campaign donations

The Spectrum

The Supreme Court began its new term on Monday. So far, the highest court of the land has agreed to hear more than 50 cases. And pundits have declared the slate for the upcoming session to be potentially more important than that of the last two sessions combined.

One case, however, deals with particularly familiar terrain: campaign finance law.

This is especially important, as the potential that money has to corrupt elections is at an all-time high.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on a case that could reverse established rules that impose limitations on money in politics.

It was only three years ago since the court's landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which declared corporations as people - making them entitled to spend unlimited amounts on campaign elections.

Now, the court will be considering another facet of this issue: contributions to candidates.

Shaun McCutcheon, a successful Alabama businessman, is challenging the aggregate limits on contributions to political parties and campaigns. In 2012, McCutcheon donated around $33,000 to 16 Republican candidates and organizations and committees supporting Republican candidates, according to National Public Radio.

He would have preferred to donate more, however, he was restricted due to federal laws limiting the amount individuals can give to campaigns. In 2012, the limits were set at $46,000 for individual campaigns and $70,000 for party committees.

Due to the ruling of Citizens United, McCutcheon can spend as much money as he wants to give to independent groups, which work to raise millions of dollars for candidates separate from the actual campaigns.

But McCutcheon is no longer interested in giving to groups - he wants the ability to donate directly to the Republican Party.

And now the question is whether the current restrictions should be removed; the Supreme Court will determine the constitutionality of overall limits.

For decades, it was well established that there should be limits on campaign finance. And until Citizens United, that was the rule of law. And that ruling three years ago is one of the most outrageous since Bush V. Gore. So much so that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor shifted from her decidedly reticent stance to speak in public on court rulings.

"No state can possibly benefit from having that much money injected into a political campaign," she said at a conference at Georgetown University Law Center, indicating that had she still been on the court, the narrow 5-4 ruling of Citizens United would have likely gone the other way.

But it didn't go the other way, and now the public is in danger of major corporations having too large an influence on the democratic process.

The notion that restricting money is a form of restricting free speech is far fetch and has been fallaciously propagated for years in an attempt for corporations to self-servingly intervene in the political process.

But to allow unlimited amounts to go into individual political campaigns is to remove judgment and common sense from the Supreme Court's line of reasoning - to ignore what history was proven and to disregard what long-standing law has established: that imposed financial limits in campaigns is designed prevent corruption.

In 1976, Buckley v. Valeo maintained this precedent in a ruling that upheld limits on direct political contributions.

McCutcheon is yet another individual in a long line of challengers who have promulgated that limitations on expenditures are limitations on speech. But this is in fact a political ploy. It is an attempt to distract from the fact that these limitations allow more Americans to have a say in the electoral process - and not letting a privileged few dominate the influence of democratic elections.

It is likely that the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission will come down to a single vote. And it is highly possible the deciding vote will fall on Justice Anthony Kennedy. And if the most recent ruling on campaign finance is any indicator of how this decision will come out, we may be in trouble.


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