Court Declines to Overturn Campaign Contribution Caps

Court Declines to Overturn Campaign Contribution Caps

A federal appeals court today unanimously upheld longstanding limits on how much each donor can contribute to a House or Senate candidate

The good guys in the fight to rein in the power of big money in politics won an important victory today, as a federal appeals court unanimously upheld longstanding limits on how much each donor can contribute to a House or Senate candidate.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, generally regarded as the nation’s second most important court, said Congress was within its rights in setting a $2,600 per election limit on contributions from a single donor. The limit applies to primary and general elections.

The plaintiffs in Laura Holmes and Paul Jost v. Federal Election Commission are a Florida couple who wanted to combine the per election caps so that they could skip the primary and write a single check for $5,200 to their preferred candidate before the general election. The per election limit works as a violation of their free speech rights, they argued.

But the court, in an opinion by Judge Sri Srinivasen, said Congress’ interest in limiting the potential for corruption arising from campaign donations permits it to impose reasonable limits on both the size of any contribution and the time frame in which the money can be donated.

“A contribution ceiling, to be effective, must specify not only a maximum contribution amount (e.g., $2,600) but also a timeframe in which that amount may be expended, (e.g., $2,600 in each election)” Srinivasen wrote.

The judge added that carried to its logical conclusion, the plaintiff’s argument would permit some donors to contribute far more than $5,200 per candidate, increasing the potential for corruption. A congressman seeking a fifth term, for example, might legally accept up to $26,000 ($5,200 x 5) from a donor who had not given to his/her previous campaigns.

While the $2,600 per election limit applies to contributions that go directly to a candidate’s campaign committee, the Supreme Court has removed all limits on donations to “independent” political action groups that often play a critical role in modern campaigns. Those groups, often organized as “social welfare” nonprofits, can spend as much as they like to support or oppose candidates but are barred from coordinating their efforts with those of the candidates.