Case Name: McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission

Type of Case: Free Speech; campaign finance

Court: United States Supreme Court

Case Number: 12-536

Filed On: February 2, 2014

Current Status: U.S. Supreme Court declared aggregate campaign limits unconstitutional

Federal campaign finance laws previously limited contributions to a single candidate or committee, but also imposed limits on the amount that could be contributed to all candidates and committees. So, for example, the law limited contributions to a single candidate to $5,200 ($2,600 each for a primary and a general election), but also imposed a cap of $48,600 to all candidates.  So if a person made $4,860 contributions to 10 different candidates, it would be unlawful to donate even $1 to an 11th.

A federal lawsuit challenging the law made its way to the United States Supreme Court.  WILL filed an amicus brief on its own behalf, urging the Court to abandon the artificial distinction between campaign contributions and independent expenditures, extending the full force of constitutional protections to both.

Justice Thomas agreed with that position.  The other four Justices in the majority (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Alito) found that the aggregate limit failed even the less strict constitutional test applied to restrictions on contributions.  The Court reiterated earlier holdings that only laws carefully tailored to prevent “quid pro quo corruption” (the promise of particular action in return for payment), can justify limiting political contributions. While limiting the amount of contributions to a single candidate helped prevent such corruption, an aggregate campaign limit does not further that goal, the Court concluded.  If giving the maximum contribution to ten candidates is deemed to not give rise to quid pro quo corruption, giving the maximum contribution to an eleventh cannot either.

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