A study released today by our friends at the National Institute on Money in State Politics indicates that a handful of businesses and wealthy individuals stand to be the big winners -- and the public interest the big loser -- if the Supreme Court delivers a widely-expected ruling setting aside "aggregate" limits on political contributions.
The study found that the court will give big donors additional clout and diminish the already-limited influence of small donors if its ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission lifts caps on the total a single donor may give to all candidates in each election cycle.
The justices heard arguments in the case last fall; the pointed questions several of them directed at Justice Department lawyers arguing in favor of the caps have sparked concern among campaign finance reform advocates that the court is likely to rule the limits unconstitutional.
An Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, says the aggregate limits violate his free speech rights. He is not challenging the $2,600 cap set by federal law on donations to a single candidate but argues that he should be permitted to give the legal maximum to as many candidates as he chooses.
Federal law currently restricts donors to gifts totaling $123,200 in a single election cycle.
The National Institute study focused on similar limits imposed by 32 states on contributions to candidates for governor and other state offices, including state legislative seats. While those caps are not directly at issue in the McCutcheon case, they would almost certainly disappear if the court invalidates the federal limits.
The study said that from 2008-12, only about 8 percent of donors in the states with caps reached the legal maximum in state legislative races. But those donors supplied 35 percent of total contributions and they almost certainly will be called on to donate even more if the court lifts the limits, the study concluded.
The report added that in the 18 states with no aggregate contribution limits, only 19 percent of donors contributed more than the state average from 2008-12; their donations accounted for 70 percent of all the money raised by legislative candidates however, the report said.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics