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"500 People Will Control American Democracy" If Supreme Court Overturns Campaign Finance Law

Republican leaders want the Supreme Court to throw out limits on campaign contributions.
 
 
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The following content originally appeared on the Democracy Now! website:  

The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to strike down most of the remaining limits on massive spending by wealthy donors on political campaigns. On Tuesday, justices heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which has been referred to as "the next Citizens United." Republican leaders and wealthy GOP donor Shaun McCutcheon wants the Supreme Court to throw out aggregate limits on individual contributions in a single two-year cycle, saying they violate free speech. "If these advocate limitations go down, 500 people will control American democracy. It would be 'government for the 500 people,' not for anybody else — and that’s the risk," says Burt Neuborne, law professor and founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts indicated he is prepared to strike down caps on donations to individual candidates, but perhaps not on donations to political committees. Justice Antonin Scalia appears to be set to back the lifting of all limits. "The Scalia side says, 'Look, if you're rich, you’re entitled to have as much influence as you can buy,’" Neuborne says. "And the Scalia side has won 5-to-4 consistently in recent years."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to strike down most of the remaining limits on massive spending by wealthy donors on political campaigns. On Tuesday, justices heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which has been referred to as "the next Citizens United." Republican leaders and wealthy GOP donor Shaun McCutcheon want the Supreme Court to throw out aggregate limits on individual contributions in a single two-year cycle, saying they violate free speech. On Tuesday, the likely swing vote, Chief Justice John Roberts, indicated he is prepared to strike down caps on donations to individual candidates, but perhaps not on donations to political committees. The McCutcheon case marks the first major challenge to campaign finance rules since the 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending on elections.

For more, we go to Burt Neuborne, law professor, founding legal director of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of this week around campaign finance.

BURT NEUBORNE: Well, the importance of the McCutcheon case is it’s the first time people have zeroed in on contribution limitations. The law is that expenditures—if you spend your own money—that’s now completely uncontrolled. And so you have these extraordinarily wealthy people—the Koch brothers or George Soros, on the other side—pouring huge amounts of their own money in. Nothing can be done about that. Up until now, contributions, though, were treated differently, because the idea of a contribution created the possibility of a quid pro quo deal with a candidate. And so, contributions could be limited.

And there are two kinds of limitations. There’s something called a base limitation, which limits the amount that can be given to any particular candidate or any particular committee, and then the aggregate limitation, which is a total that can be given to everybody. The numbers are huge. I mean, you wouldn’t believe it. The existing numbers now are $5,200 for a candidate in an election cycle.

AMY GOODMAN: That you can give.

BURT NEUBORNE: That you can give—$32,400 on top of that to a political—to the national political party, $10,000 on top of that to the state party, and $5,000 to as many PACs as you want, and there’s an unlimited number of them.

AMY GOODMAN: So it’s around $50,000.

BURT NEUBORNE: The only thing that prevents that from spinning out of control, to—I did the math last night, about $3.6 million each election cycle per person—the only thing that prevents that from spinning out of control are the aggregate limitations. And the aggregate limitations are $123,200, and that’s what McCutcheon says is too small.