By Tomasky, Michael
Newsweek , Vol. 161, No. 08
Byline: Michael Tomasky
The Supreme Court might not be done ruining our campaign-finance system.
There are certain phrases in the English language that do not inspire much confidence--indeed, that send a shudder down the spine of any decent American. "NCAA to announce decision" is one such phrase. "Congress will act"--a perennial. "Octomom to start adopting." You get the picture.
"Supreme Court to hear campaign-finance case" may not smack you between the eyes the way my Octomom hypothetical did, but it ought to. The current court has blasted away at the fundaments of campaign-finance reform, and our elections are becoming multibillion-dollar Wild West shootouts. The 2012 federal elections cost a sickening $6.2 billion, and for the first time ever, we saw--thanks to the court's awful 2010 Citizens United decision--a small handful of megawealthy donors put $10 million or more into super PACs.
So when the Roberts Court agrees to hear another such case, it's the better part of wisdom to fear that the West is going to get even wilder. Imagine a future in which any really rich person decides he wants to elect a certain candidate to Congress, the Senate, even the White House--and in which said person can spend any amount he wants electing that candidate. Depending on how the court rules in a case it agreed to hear this week, that future may arrive at our doors soon.
The new case is McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. McCutcheon is a Republican businessman in Alabama, and he's miffed that he isn't allowed to give more campaign money than he already does. The current law is this: any citizen may contribute $2,500 per election to federal candidates and $30,800 per year to national party committees. But there's more--there are "aggregate" limits of $46,200 to candidates and $70,800 to committees every two years.
Why do these limits exist? Here we go back 37 years to Buckley v. Valeo, the seminal Supreme Court decision in this area. Even if you follow this stuff only casually, you probably know that candidates and parties can spend as much as they want; that "spending is speech," as it's sometimes said in the trade. …