McCutcheon v. FEC: What People Are Saying
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, a challenge to the cap on how much money individuals can give, in total, to federal candidates, party committees, and political action committees (PACs) each election cycle.
Twenty-two organizations and 85 members of Congress signed "friend of the court" briefs in support of these aggregate contribition limits. Lawmakers, campaign reform leaders, editorial pages, legal scholars, environmental advocates, and others have been speaking out. Here's what they're saying.
"If the court continues in the direction of Citizens United, we may move another step closer to neutering Congress' ability to limit the influence of money in politics and another step closer to unlimited corporate contributions given directly to candidates and political committees."
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
"This fall, the Supreme Court will have another opportunity to either allow special interests a new avenue in their relentless pursuit to buy-and-sell our elections, or prevent further corruption by upholding contribution limits vital to the integrity of our system."
- Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.)
"With our campaign finance laws under assault, I hope that the Supreme Court recognizes the importance of protecting one of the most important vestiges of electoral integrity."
- Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)
"If this effort succeeds, and individuals are permitted to pour $3.5 million each into next year's congressional elections, democracy will have lost. More political power will be consolidated into fewer hands. The well-off and well-connected will have even greater access to those who can craft policies that benefit them, while the impact of the average American's voice is further diminished."
- Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.)
"The Supreme Court has long held that contribution limits are a constitutional exercise of Congress's regulatory authority. Contribution limits are necessary to guard against corruption and ensure that elected officials work to represent the constituents that elected them rather than further the narrow interests of wealthy contributors."
- Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.)
"A system in which an individual can provide millions of dollars — potentially in response to direct solicitations from the president and members of Congress — to finance parties and their candidates would substantially replicate the Watergate-era and soft-money systems that resulted in well-documented instances of corruption and apparent corruption."
- Solicitor General of the United States Don Verrilli
"But while the court in Citizens United struck down — correctly, in my opinion — limits on independent campaign spending by individuals or organizations, the McCutcheon case is an attack on limits that should not be struck down: those on contributions made directly or indirectly to political candidates."
- Charlies Fried, Former Solicitor General under President Reagan
"Early next month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will be a test as much of the five conservative justices as of the law they will review. Ever the optimist that principled reasoning will prevail, I'm betting that the conservatives will pass the test (hoping for once to be proven right!). "
- Professor Lawrence Lessig, Harvard Law School
"If the Supreme Court overturns Buckley — a case reaffirmed on multiple occasions in the past decades — it would be an astonishingly bold and poor decision. To do away with aggregate and individual contribution limits to candidates would open the door to embarrassing quid pro quo corruption."
- Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Stetson University College of Law
"Allowing unregulated monetary contributions into our political system is tantamount to ceding the role of the individual in sustaining our democracy. In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to restore faith in government and the political process by limiting the influence of money in politics. This is the result that Americans deserve."
- Kim Keenan, NAACP
"Contributions of this size would enable domination of elections by a few individuals to the detriment of our democratic process. The aggregate contribution limits are therefore necessary to prevent corruption in the form of wealthy donors having undue influence over elected officials."
- Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
"If the Supreme Court sides with McCutcheon, all it will have done is open new routes for corruption without closing the old ones."
- Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center
"The fact that they are setting their sights on even this most basic feature of campaign regulation just shows how far the conversation has shifted on campaign finance. And it's really important for the court not to take that next step. The court really needs to put a stop to the damage that's been done to our campaign finance regulations."
- Brenda Wright, Demos
"It would be terrible for our democracy … if one politician could directly solicit $3.6 million from a single donor … That is 70 times the median income for an American family. It would mean a tiny, tiny group of donors would wield unprecedented power and influence."
- Larry Norden, Brennan Center
"If the Supreme Court were to agree with this radical request, overturning almost forty years of precedent, McCutcheon could end up being more dangerous to American democracy than the recent Citizens United decision."
- Trevor Potter, Campaign Legal Center and former counsel to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
"McCutcheon will tell us soon enough whether Citizens United was a one-time occurrence or part of a broader, surreptitious plan to demolish the long-standing campaign finance regime and create a Wild West in politics, done in a few large incremental steps. McCutcheon would be step two. If it happens, expect steps three and four, which would eliminate all contribution limits and allow corporations to give directly to candidates and parties. And then brace yourselves for a political system that will make the Gilded Age look like the a golden era of clean politics."
- Norm Ornstein, Brookings Institute
"If the government loses big, it could mark the beginning of the end of any limits on campaign contributions given directly to candidates in federal, state, and local elections."
- Rick Hasen, UC Irvine Law School
"Striking down aggregate limits would create an even smaller class of political kingmakers. And it would drown out the voices of average citizens — the ones politicians are supposed to listen to, but clearly aren't."
- Ian Vandewalker, Brennan Center
"When the Supreme Court Justices return to the bench for their new Term and hear argument in the McCutcheon case, they should support, not hinder, Congress's power to safeguard the integrity of our democratic process. "
- Elizabeth Wydra, Constitutional Accountability Center
"Unlimited money in politics will mean that government is not responsive to the interests of average Americans who are losing their voice in their government. That's not the future Americans want to see."
- Nick Nyhart, Public Campaign
"In short, if the Supreme Court goes along with McCutcheon and the RNC, it would be further placing our elections in the hands of a few and making it even harder for the voices of everyday people to be heard in Washington."
- David Donnelly, Public Campaign Action Fund
"McCutcheon is not about free speech, it's about the buying and selling of political power. … The case invites the court to give wealthy Americans permission to purchase political favors and influence like they purchase stocks or real estate. With apologies to Mark Twain, it would give us the best government money can buy."
- Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause
"Here in McCutcheon we have a limit that's beyond reach for all but the very, very wealthiest families, and yet we have a court poised to say even that limit is too much,"
- Larry Cohen, Communications Workers of America
"If the Supreme Court now strikes down aggregate contribution limits, it will further privilege wealthy donors in the political process and further undermine working people's confidence that government is serving the public interest."
- Randi Weingarten, AFT
"In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to double down on Citizens United to transform further our democracy – rule by the people – into a wealthocracy."
- Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
"Will the Supreme Court make it easier to bribe politicians during the midterm elections? That's part of what's at stake on October 8, when the justices consider McCutcheon v. FEC, a case brought by an Alabama businessman and the Republican National Committee."
- Steve Spaulding, Common Cause
"It's the 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent. Even Mitt Romney would say that these folks are elitists. These are the limits that apply to an amount of people who couldn't even fill a high school gymnasium, and a good number of them are oil and gas and coal executives."
- Michael Brune, Sierra Club
"As advocates of the Millennial generation, a demographic that is larger than any other previous generation but frequently overlooked in election cycles because of their lack of fiscal resources, we oppose any decision that would further distort our politics to give improper influence to the largest donors."
- Matthew Segal, Our Time
"A decision to strike down the overall contribution limits will return to our elections huge contributions that directly support candidates and parties and will recreate the system of legalized bribery that existed prior to the Watergate campaign finance scandals"
- Fred Wertheimer, Democracy 21
"If the court does decide to throw out precedent and side with the plaintiffs, it would make this problem significantly worse."
- Blair Bowie, US PIRG
"Striking aggregate contribution limits would leave our elected officials more beholden to big special interests and less responsive to the needs of small businesses. It would threaten to distort market competition through the influence of pay to play politics. That's bad for small business."
- David Borris, Main Street Alliance
"If the Supreme Court overturns current limits, then we'll see that small group of people dominate America even more."
- Phil Radford, Greenpeace
"Removing aggregate limits on contributions in elections will only exacerbate this. It's time we fought corruption and the appearance of corruption and made the rules surrounding voting and campaign contributions work to promote a stronger democracy."
- Heather Smith, Rock the Vote
"It makes sense that the fossil fuel industry is desperate to find more ways to bring more money to bear -- it's really their only play. But the price of bribery is going up, and Shaun McCutcheon -- businessman, coal baron, and climate denier -- is preparing to pay it."
- Steve Kretzmann, Oil Change International
"For our economy to prosper, we must limit the looters' ability to purchase policy and corrupt the Congress. This can't be accomplished without spending restraints and radical transparency about who is trying to buy whom."
- David Brodwin, American Sustainable Business Council
"As bad as Citizens United was, I think this would be much worse."
- Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Common Cause Maryland
"TheMcCutcheon case is about the corruption of our democracy. It's about a relatively few wealthy people believing that they can spend as much money to influence politicians as money can buy."
- Peter Butzin, Common Cause Florida
"The legal challenge is not about expanding our collective rights; it’s about further amplifying the rights of a select few by diluting the rights of everybody else."
- Tyler Creighton, Common Cause Massachusetts.
New York Times: "In a 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo, the court upheld limits on direct political contributions to prevent corruption. That precedent is being tested again in the McCutcheon case; the justices should reaffirm it."
Louisville Courier-Journal: "If Mr. McCutcheon and his new friends get their way, the result would be a super-flow of funds from the super-rich to select candidates."
Baltimore Sun: "Ultimately, their decision is likely to serve GOP fundraising interests but can only make a political system already mired in dysfunction and balkanization even less responsive to the broader public interest."
Buffalo News: "The issue is whether Americans who are less well off will be boxed out of any ability to influence elections, or if inordinate, corruptible power will be vested in the hands of those with money to spare."
Washington Post's Ruth Marcus: "Still, lifting the limits on overall direct giving would further undermine a system awash in big money."
Merced Sun-Star: "Although we aren’t holding out hope, the justices need to leave in place aggregate contribution limits that apply to donors giving to federal candidates, national parties and political action committees."
MetroWest Daily News: "If the high court follows the same reasoning it did in Citizens United and strikes down the caps, the result inevitably will be more cash in the system. Sounds like a recipe for making the current dysfunction in Washington even worse."