Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Podcast: Breaking down the McCutcheon case

October 10, 2013 by NCC Staff


On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that could bring another significant change to campaign finance laws.

350px-Supreme_Court_US_2010The basic constitutional rules for financing federal election campaigns were set primarily in two Supreme Court rulings in 1976 and 2010.

In 1976, the Court ruled in the case of Buckley v. Valeo that Congress had extensive power to put limits on individual campaign donations to federal candidates as a way to prevent corruption. But the Court said it had much less power to restrict expenditures, independent of candidates, by individuals and groups.

And, in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the Court said that corporations and labor can spend just as much as they want on independent efforts to influence federal election outcomes, and this would not be corrupting.

The basic question in front of the Court in McCutcheon was what restrictions the Constitution allows the government to put on spending in federal elections.

The case was filed by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, and the Republican National Committee. McCutcheon challenges the idea of aggregate limits.

In a two-year election period, a person can donate a total, or aggregate, of $48,600 to all candidates for federal office and another $74,600 to national political parties, state and local political parties, and political groups. Donations are limited to $2,600 per election on contributions to individual candidates for federal office.

McCutcheon claims the total limit of $123,200 violates his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

It is expected that five conservative Justices on the Court could not only change these aggregate limits, but also reconsider restrictions on campaign contributions in general, in a McCutcheon ruling. So the fate of the 1976 Buckley ruling is also in doubt.

The government claims the rules under Buckley are the heart of the current campaign finance system, and shouldn’t be changed.

Jeffrey Rosen, the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, spoke with David H. Gans from the Constitutional Accountability Center and Ilya Shapiro from the Cato Institute about the case after the arguments were made in court.

Both groups filed amicus briefs in the case that you can read here:

Link: CAC Brief | CATO Brief

You can read the full transcript of the arguments from the Court in McCutcheon here.

And here is the full audio of the discussion between Rosen, Gans, and Shapiro. (Click on this link if you can't use the player below.)


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