Starting next week, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin oral arguments in a case many are calling "the next Citizens United" for its potential to vastly enhance the power of money in politics beyond its already lethal hold.
Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission will begin court hearings on Tuesday. In the case, republican donor Shaun McCutcheon is challenging current campaign donation rules that limit individual donors to $123,000 in total spending on federal candidates and political parties during any two-year federal election cycle, known as aggregate campaign limits.
“In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to double down on Citizens United to transform further our democracy – rule by the people – into a wealthocracy.” - Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
This amount is not enough for McCutcheon nor fellow plaintiff, the Republican National Committee (RNC). Neither was the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which gave corporations and other groups the freedom to spend as much as they want on political messaging campaigns, as long as they do not donate directly to candidates.
"With McCutcheon, the attack on our democracy continues," writes Marge Baker for OtherWords, "this time through a potential gutting of one of the last remaining pillars of our campaign finance legal structure, aggregate campaign contribution limits."
The effects of this new potential world of campaign funding would look like "the system of legalized bribery that existed prior to the Watergate campaign finance scandals," warns Fred Wertheimer of the group Democracy 21.
“In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court will decide whether to double down on Citizens United to transform further our democracy – rule by the people – into a wealthocracy,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “We can only hope that this is one step too far for the Supreme Court. But we shouldn’t have to hope, and we shouldn’t have to live with a campaign finance system already corroded by Citizens United and other harmful court decisions. That McCutcheon is even being considered by the Court highlights the imperative of a constitutional amendment to protect our democracy.”
"...we need to amend our Constitution to stop the distortions of big money in our elections and restore the primacy of the people in our democracy." - Lisa Graves, Center for Media and Democracy
If McCutcheon and the RNC are victorious, it will be the first time in history that the U.S. Supreme court determines a direct contribution limit unconstitutional.
"The case is a continuation of the attack on our democracy by wealthy interests," reads a statement by People for the American way, who along with eight other groups are helping organize a national call for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and forever limit individual and corporate campaign contribution spending. "Plaintiffs challenging aggregate limits should clearly lose this case under current Supreme Court precedent, but the fact that the Court has agreed to hear their arguments at all underscores the need for amending the Constitution to restore the American people’s ability to limit corporate and special interest influence on elections and to promote a democracy of, by and for the people," the group writes.
“The Supreme Court should not repeat the grave mistakes of its disastrous Citizens United ruling in the McCutcheon case by giving the richest few even more disproportionate influence over our democracy,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “The notion that anyone’s ‘speech’ rights are burdened because he can’t give more than $123,200 in campaign contributions is an absolute perversion of the First Amendment, and the fact that the high court would even consider such a claim demonstrates that we need to amend our Constitution to stop the distortions of big money in our elections and restore the primacy of the people in our democracy.”
And a bevy of pro-democracy groups and activists have decided to stand up next Tuesday while the court begins its hearings and make their voices heard outside on the steps of the Supreme Court. A rally outside the court on First St NE, Washington, DC will take place October 8th at 9:30 am.