Supreme Court opens gates for political money

Joan Stallard (L) of Washington DC talks about the issue of the Supreme Court striking down the limit one can donate to political as Scott Dorn (R) of Washington DC looks on in front of the U.S. Supreme Court April 2, 2014, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court struck down the limits on how much one person can donate overall to political campaigns. The limit to individual candiates is still $2,600 per candidate. 

The Supreme Court says you can put a whole lot of money into politics. Its 5-4 decision Wednesday in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission strikes down overall limits on what people can give to candidates and political parties. There are still limits as to what someone can give to a single candidate. But now, theoretically, individuals can max out their giving to every candidate nationwide.

Many expect the ruling to mean an overall increase in how much money goes into politics. And it may also mean some money that goes now to independent political vehicles such as super PACs and 501(c)(4)s may go instead to candidates and parties.

Mark Garrison: Let’s meet two folks on two sides of this issue, who both filed briefs with the Court. Ilya Shapiro of the libertarian Cato Institute is happier of the pair.

Ilya Shapiro: The Supreme Court should free up the arena for political speech.

Trevor Potter is with Campaign Legal Center. You may have seen him on TV in his role as lawyer for Steven Colbert’s many satirical political ventures. The Court did not agree with him.

Trevor Potter: If they read our brief, they apparently didn’t care about the consequences.

This is Marketplace, not Legalplace, so we won’t dwell on their arguments. In short, Potter worries about money causing corruption. Shapiro says restricting campaign spending restrains free speech. But there’s one place they agree. First, Potter.

Potter: I think there will be a net increase in the amount of money going into politics.

And Shapiro.

Shapiro: I think there will be increased contributions in general to the candidates and campaigns.

And it may mean less money given to outside groups. In recent years, dollars have flowed from billionaires to super PACs and 501(c)(4)s. Outside money has been the trendy thing in campaigns. But this ruling may bring a vintage political force back into style. Scott Bland is with National Journal Hotline, a news source for political insiders.

Scott Bland: it’s possible that as a result of this, the parties will be able to exercise a little bit more influence than they have over the last few years.

In a political environment full of new ways to spend money, today’s ruling may help empower a very old one. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.


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