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Supreme Court favors big donors -- again

Split ruling will allow donors to give in the millions

By John Michaelson

AUSTIN, Texas - Another important campaign finance decision handed down Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court is provoking both celebration and consternation across the country. 

 

 

The 5-to-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission means instead of a total of $123,000, a single donor could give as much as $3.5 million in a single election cycle.

Liz Wally, executive director of Clean Elections Texas, calls the decision devastating.

"There's no way that the public, who can afford 20, 50 maybe $150, can match that," she says. "And I think our democracy is in danger.

"This is just going to mean what feels to all the public like the buying of our government."

Groups applauding the decision include the Cato Institute, which says restricting the total amount a donor can give violates First Amendment rights and does not prevent corruption.

But Paul Ryan, senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, says combined with the Citizens United ruling of 2010, the decision opens the floodgates wider to give the wealthy more influence over politicians.

However, he does see a small silver lining.

"The court did in fact leave the door open for more narrowly tailored corruption-preventing policies that Congress might pass, and that state legislatures and city councils across the country could certainly pursue," he points out.

Marge Baker, vice president of People for the American Way, says the McCutcheon decision, which she sees as a major threat to democracy, is bound to generate a wide range of responses.

"From amending the Constitution to small-donor public financing proposals," she says.

Other critics of the decision say the court is ignoring previous laws passed by Congress, past presidents' decisions to sign those laws, and even the court's own precedents.