(And a reminder why elections still matter.)
By Brad Friedman on 4/2/2014, 11:50am PT  

Scrambling to prep for today's BradCast on KPFK/Pacifica Radio, so this will have to be quick today, but you've probably already read about the U.S. Supreme Court's horrible 5-4 decision in the McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case by now.

If not, Andrew Kroll's explainer "The Supreme Court Just Gutted Another Campaign Finance Law. Here's What Happened." is excellent, as is Ian Millhiser's "How The Supreme Court Just Legalized Money Laundering By Rich Campaign Donors".

[Millhiser will be joining me this evening on The BradCast.]

In (incredibly) brief, the SCOTUS ruling means that aggregate limits --- put in place 40 years ago, after the Watergate scandal --- that a single person may contribute to federal candidates and political parties were found to be an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment free speech rights. While limits of contributions to individual federal candidates of $2,600 per election (that's $2,600 for a primary and another $2,600 for the general) and $5,000 to a political committee stay in place, the aggregate amount they may now give to many candidates and political parties will now be lifted.

So, where a single donor could previously give no more than $117,000 to all federal candidates and political committees during the 2012 cycle, that limit has now been entirely trashed. As the SCOTUS minority argued in the case, the ruling will now allow a single individual to give up to $3.5 million in a cycle, if they give to all federal candidates running. In turn, those candidates and political parties may now pool that money and divert it to the most needed races.

This ruling is great news, for an incredibly small number of very wealthy people. As Richard Wolf and Fredreka Schouten encapsulate it at USA Today...

Nearly 1.3 million people donated more than $200 to federal candidates, party committees and PACs last year, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money. Only about 600 hit the maximum donation limit to federal candidates in the 2012 elections, the center found.

So this new decision will now allow those 600 --- 600 individuals! --- who had maxed out their $117,000 aggregate campaign contribution limit in 2012, to buy an even larger slice of our democracy in 2014.

Mind you, this decision deals only with campaign money given to candidates and political committees --- the old-fashioned type of political committees, not the Super PACS. Limits of giving to those organizations had already been done away with by the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United ruling in 2010. On top of that, of course, there are the non-profit, so-called 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organizations, such as Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, which already have no limits on how much money they can receive from donors they do not have to name and, according to a recent FEC decision, those groups may now spend the majority of the funds --- hundreds of millions, if they like --- on political ads without repercussion.

That FEC decision is being challenged in federal court, as we reported in detail in February. Given the current Supreme Court's general predilection for taking away virtually all limits on how much of our democracy that rich people can buy, it seems that case, even if successful at the District Court level, could ultimately be overturned as well by these Supremes, in order to favor the "free speech" of the super-rich over the "free speech" that folks like you and I can afford to purchase.

"Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today's decision eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the minority's dissent.

This current Supreme Court majority is in place thanks to the 2000 election of George W. Bush, in which he received fewer votes than his opponent Al Gore (even in Florida) and his 2004 re-election in which massive election irregularities took place in Ohio, but went completely unchallenged by his opponent John Kerry.

In case we need to remind you again: Yes, elections --- and election results --- matter.

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