SCOTUS overturns political donation limit

April 9th, 2014



The Supreme Court of the United States reached a 5-4 decision on Wednesday, April 2 in McCutcheon v. FEC to end limitations on the number of candidates, political party committees and combined donations that individuals can donate during a two-year election cycle.


As another election season is about to begin, this decision will increase the number of candidates or political parties donors may contribute to, but not the amount of money they can give to any candidate or political party committee.


McCutcheon v. FEC is the most recent case to uplift political donation limits.


Alabama businessmen Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee brought the case to the Supreme Court, in the hopes he could give less money to more candidates, but was stopped by federal regulations.


McCutcheon also believes it will encourage ordinary Americans to support campaigns, as more money comes from more individuals.


Candidates may still only receive $2,600 from a donor, but the donor may give $2,600 to as many candidates as they wish. Before the ruling, donors were limited to giving a combined $48,600 every two years, or around 18 candidates.


Similarly, an individual donation to national political parties is capped at $32,400. State, district and/or local political party committee donations are capped at $10,000.  Now, donors may give an unlimited amount to each national, state, district or local political party, instead of being capped at $74,600 every two years. The cap for each donation, however, still exists.

WorldNews Donations

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority; justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas voted with the majority. According to Roberts, “There is no right in our democracy more basic, than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”


Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the minority opinion, which Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with.  Breyer argued that lifting limitations on spending would cause corruption in elections and encourage candidates to circumvent other donation limitations because donors could again donate huge sums of money.


“The anti-corruption interest that drives Congress to regulate campaign contributions is a far broader, more important interest than the plurality acknowledges,” wrote Breyer.


Roberts countered this argument in his opinion, by saying that leveling the playing field is not a responsibility for the government.


“This court has identified only one legitimate governmental interest for restricting campaign finances: preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Roberts wrote.  “No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field.’”


It is expected that this decision will result in the return of donations directly to political parties, instead of outside groups.


This decision continues a trend that began with the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) case, which decided that corporate donations in elections could not be limited, as long as the donation is not coordinated with candidates or campaigns.


Editor’s Note: Information from The New York Times, Oyez and Politico was used in this report.