Some have dubbed this case “Citizens United 2.0.” In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that it was unconstitutional (a violation of First Amendment-protected free speech) for the government to restrict political spending by corporations. McCutcheon v. FEC deals with how much individuals can give to federal candidates or committees.
During each election cycle, individuals can donate up to $5,200 to a single federal candidate, and a total of $48,600 to all federal candidates. There are similar limits for Political Action Committees and national political parties. In total, individuals can’t donate more than $123,000, a sum that is known as “aggregate contribution limits.”
Shaun McCutcheon is CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, a company that makes coal mining equipment. (And as evidenced by his February 2013 tweet, “If we are so worried about children of future generations why do we waste their real money & precious freedom on climate change?” — he is no friend of the earth.) McCutcheon is also a Republican activist and campaign donor who believes that he should be able to donate to as many political candidates and PACs that we wants, regardless of aggregate contribution limits. So he sued the Federal Elections Commission, arguing that the restrictions hampered his right to free speech.
The Supreme Court heard the case in October 2013 and issued a ruling on April 2, 2014. The court struck down the aggregate limits, making politicians even more beholden to the super-wealthy and skewing the playing field even more against the public interest. How skewed? $123,000 is twice the median income of US households, and as Public Campaign found in the last election cycle, there were only 1,200 people who maxed out (or nearly did) at that limit.
The Huffington Post also points out that the case “could super-size Joint Fundraising Committees… [which could] join the super PAC and the ‘dark money’ nonprofit as the new face of big money in politics.” Joint Fundraising Committees collect large checks and then distribute them to political candidates. The number of JFCs has more than tripled in the last ten election cycles, and Public Citizen concludes that individuals can now give almost $6 million to Joint Fundraising Committees.
Read Friends of the Earth’s statement on the case here.