Opinion: Columnists

Supreme Court campaign finance decision empowers donors who prefer candidates over parties

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Opinion,David Freddoso,Columnists,Supreme Court,Campaign Finance,Magazine

When the Supreme Court issued its McCutcheon decision on campaign finance law Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was unsparing with criticism: “All [the decision] does is take away people's rights,” he said, “because, as you know, the Koch brothers are trying to buy America.”

In case that reaction seems insufficiently unhinged, Rick Weiland, the Democrats' Senate nominee in South Dakota, called it “the worst ruling since Dred Scott.” That would make it worse than rulings that permitted compulsory state-enforced sterilizations and justified segregation under the principle of “separate but equal.”

So for the sane, what does the new Supreme Court campaign finance ruling really mean? Not much, it turns out. It does mean that the Koch Brothers and other wealthy donors that invest in third-party groups will have slightly less influence going forward. It will also empower donors who are picky about which candidates get their money. And it will mean one less excuse for the uber-wealthy to say, “Sorry, but I've given enough this year.”

And that's probably all.

I noted in this space that under current law, anyone can already give unlimited amounts to any number of candidate-specific super PACs. In fact, the candidates who benefit from these contributions are even allowed to encourage such giving, to a point. In that context, this decision means almost nothing.

The McCutcheon decision actually keeps in place the current limits on how much you can give to any one federal campaign – $2,600 for the primary and $2,600 for the general election. But it removes aggregate limits on what individuals can give all candidates, parties and PACs put together.

There's another wrinkle to this. Of the $123,200 allowed by the now-obsolete limits, most of the money had to go to party committees (the DNC, RNC, NRCC, etc.) or PACs. Donors could only give up to $48,000 in total to specific candidates each cycle – thus limiting the number of candidates to whom they could give any significant amount.

So those 650 donors who reached the $123,200 limit last cycle can expect more phone calls asking for money in the future. If every single one of these super-wealthy donors were to give the maximum to twice as many candidates as a result of this ruling, it would mean an additional $30 million in politics in 2014. That's less than 1 percent of what was spent in 2010, or a bit more than Harry Reid himself raised and spent defending his own seat that year.

By abolishing the $48,000 cap, this week's decision especially empowers wealthy donors who dislike the political party establishments on both sides and want them to have no part in deciding where their money is allocated. If you're a wealthy liberal who views Reid as too timid and as a threat to progressive values, you can now bypass him and give more to candidates of your choice.

The same is true if you are a Tea Party supporter who has money to burn -- you can now give to more of the insurgent candidates you like. And as you enjoy exercising your First Amendment rights, be gracious and indulge the hysterical reaction of liberals, generated by their inordinate, faith-based belief in a failed campaign finance system.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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