Until this morning, the federal government could limit the amount of money you contribute for political speech. Today in McCutcheon vs. FEC, the Supreme Court invalidated overall contribution limits. The federal government limited individual campaign contributions to $48,000 overall and $123,200 to everything (PACs, candidates, national parties) each cycle.
The Supreme Court struck down the limits, holding that the government’s justification for limiting free speech rights – to keep money out of politics and the avoid the appearance of impropriety – failed.
This decision cuts at the heart of the leftist narrative on free speech attacks. The heart of the narrative on the left (and among a smattering of GOP Senators) is that money in politics is bad and that large financial contributions create the appearance of corruption.
The Court rejected these justifications squarely:
Significant First Amendment interests are implicated here. Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association. A restriction on how many candidates and committees an individual may support is hardly a “modest restraint” on those rights. The Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.
After the page break, we’ll explore the driving force behind the decision.
One of the most interesting aspects of the case is the role of lawyer Dan Backer. Backer is the driving force behind the decision. He went out and sought plaintiffs who could help strike down this law. Backer represents an activist breed of conservative lawyer who borrows the tactics of offense from the left and seeks to alter the legal landscape and the future of the nation. He was featured in USA Today last month:
The activist lawyer wants the digital currency bitcoin accepted as campaign contributions. He wants donors to Tea Party-affiliated political action committees to remain anonymous. And he recently helped launch a non-profit group to make it easier for disenchanted donors to demand contribution refunds from politicians.
Many of his far-fetched proposals have been rejected by federal regulators. But the 36-year-old conservative Republican could be on the brink of making election history — and his reputation — with a case the Supreme Court’s justices are deliberating.
Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign-finance watchdog group Democracy 21, said Backer “seems to take the most extreme positions around and hope for the best.”
For his part, Backer sums up his record this way: “When you pick the hard fights, you don’t win as often.”
In a profession dominated by the risk adverse, Backer’s tactic of eternal offense stands out. Today, he gets to bask in the glow of enormous success.
The left is already apoplectic about the decision today and are sending email blasts to conjure up a mob. From a Moveon.org email that just went out:
We can’t vote Supreme Court justices out of office—but we can definitely make sure that they—and the media and politicians watching—know the people’s opinion in this case. That’s why MoveOn members are showing up TODAY with other progressives and allies at more than a 150 Rapid Response Rallies nationwide in reaction to the Supreme Court’s flawed decision.
“Can you join in at an event near Washington?”, Move On asks its supporters.