Depending on who you listen to, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 McCutcheon v. FEC decision on campaign finance laws is either a resounding victory for free speech or the end of democracy as we know it. The truth is probably somewhere in between, though we think it is much closer to the former.
The case centers around Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, who contributed $30,088 to 16 candidates during the 2011-12 election cycle and claimed that he wanted to make donations of $1,776 to 12 other candidates, but was precluded by the federal cap on the total amount of money that may be donated to candidates. The current caps are $2,600 to a single candidate for each primary and general election, and an aggregate limit of $48,600 to all federal candidates.
At issue was why, if it was legal, for example, to make donations below the individual cap to, say, 19 candidates, was it illegal and considered corruption to make a similar contribution to a 20th candidate.
The court correctly ruled that this limit does not make sense. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, “The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a news- paper how many candidates it may endorse.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the court should do away with the individual candidate contribution cap as well. “Under the plurality’s analysis, limiting the amount of money a person may give to a candidate does impose a direct restraint on his political communication; if it did not, the aggregate limits at issue here would not create ‘a special burden on broader participation in the democratic process,’” he wrote.
The problem is not so much money in politics as it is that government has become so big and intrusive that it has the power to dole out political favors in the first place. If government did not have the power to hand out subsidies or impose a virtually unlimited number of regulations on businesses, what incentive would business interests have in lobbying the government? If it did not have the power to tip the scales to the advantage of labor unions, how many resources would unions devote to tapping its coercive power?
For all the critics’ talk about the McCutcheon decision’s supposed ill effects on democracy, the greatest threat to the democratic/republican ideal is the ever-growing scope of government and the notion that its power may be used to advance “collective rights” at the expense of individual liberties — including the right to spend your money as you please.
— From the Orange County Register