by Adam Lioz. Mr. Lioz is a lawyer and policy advocate who joined the Demos Democracy Program in November 2011. He focuses on litigation to enforce the National Voter Registration Act and end prison-based gerrymandering; and policy advocacy to promote political equality and democratic fairness through safeguarding the right to vote and curbing the influence of big money on the political process.
Yesterday, in spite of official Washington being on lockdown, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on McCutcheon v. FEC – a case many are referring to as “Citizens United II.”
The case is a challenge to the total cap on the amount that one wealthy donor can give to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs, known as “aggregate contribution limits.”
An Alabama coal industry executive named Shaun McCutcheon (joined by the RNC) thinks that the current $123,200 cap – more than twice what an average family makes in a year – is a burdensome restriction on his political participation. So, he’s asking the Court to lift the cap, freeing him to kick in more than $3.5 million to Republican candidates and party committees.
Senator Mitch McConnell, who proudly embraces his reputation as the “Darth Vader of campaign finance reform,” has asked the justices to go further by overturning key parts of the Court’s seminal campaign finance case and striking all contribution limits, including the cap on the amount an individual can give directly to any one candidate (currently $5,200 per election cycle).
What’s at stake in the case? New research from Demos and U.S. PIRG projects that striking aggregate limits would bring more than $1 billion in additional “McCutcheon Money” through the 2020 election cycle, from just slightly more than 1,500 elite donors.
This is not a sea change in overall election spending, and much of this money may be shifted from Super PACs to candidates and parties. But, it will continue to shift the balance of power from average citizens to a tiny minority of wealthy donors. And, who are these wealthy donors? In a nutshell, they don’t look like the rest of the country, but rather are avatars of what Public Campaign calls “Country Club Politics.”