The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 10, 2013

High stakes in campaign money case

Why it matters: The U.S. Supreme Court could open the floodgates of money in politics even further by a decision on campaign finance laws

Creating more distrust and cynicism of American politics wouldn’t be difficult today. We would need only to remove all restrictions on how much money wealthy donors could provide elected officials.

The Supreme Court may be deciding just that as it hears a case in its term that started Tuesday that challenges campaign finance laws that set aggregate limits how much an individual can donate to a candidate for office.

Critics are saying it will be a case of legalizing bribery, while proponents contend the government shouldn’t be limiting the free speech of donors who want to talk with their money.

Supreme Court observers say the justices may be leaning in the direction of removing the restrictions given a ruling about three years ago that removed limits how much corporations and unions could spend on independent groups influencing elections. Two years after the so called Citizens United case, parties and groups poured $5.2 billion into elections.

The court will hear the appeal of Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon who has a zeal for supporting conservative candidates. He wanted to donate the maximum amount to a number of congressional candidates but was limited to 16 because he was bumping up against the total amount of donations allowed under law, about $46,000 for donations to candidates and $70,000 for donations to parties.

He has allies in his petition to the court with the Republican National Committee and Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. A National Public Radio report says they are asking the court approve a standard that would likely remove all limits, individual and aggregate.

McCutcheon and others can under current law contribute as much money as they want to any group or organization that may promote a particular candidate, but not the individual candidate themselves. The floodgates to unrestricted independent expenditures to a group came with the Citizens United ruling.

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