If You Thought Citizens United Was Bad, Today's Supreme Court Case Could Completely Derail America


The single most damaging Supreme Court decision affecting our electoral process, Citizens United, may get some backup. 

More than three years after upending campaign finance through the misguided Citizen's United ruling in January 2010, the Supreme Court is wading into the territory again by hearing McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission on Tuesday, a case challenging the federal law that limits donor contributions.

Here's the case, in a nutshell: Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy donor backed by the Republican National Committee, is challenging individual contribution limits ($46,200 for federal candidates and $70,800 for parties and political action committees during a two-year election cycle). He says these limits are "unsupported by any cognizable government interest … at any level of review" even though the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the limits after D.C. Circuit Courts dismissed the case

As Politico's Tarini Parti reported, McCutcheon contributed $33,088 to 16 candidates during the 2012 election cycle and "thousands more" to party committees, a limit established in 1974 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1976 by Buckley v. Valeo. The 2012 election cycle permitted McCutcheon to contribute an unlimited amount of money to super PACs because of Citizen's United, but McCutcheon and the RNC are hoping to extend the notion that First Amendment rights protect political contributions as a freedom of speech.

This would not be the first time that the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could only make Citizen's United worse. In June 2012, SCOTUS overturned a 100-year old Montana law that prohibited corporate spending in the state's election, just ahead of the major election season campaigning. 2012 saw the highest amount of money in a political election ever, due to the unregulated funding of super PACs that flooded the airwaves on both sides of the political spectrum. 

However, the billionaire- and corporation-funded super PACs favoring the GOP lost a combined $380 million in the 2012 election cycle, with even Sheldon Adelson's purported $70-$100 million contributions to such super PACs, including approximately $32 million on Romney alone resulting in a complete loss.

Despite the legal debate about corruption and influence surrounding campaign finance, the most absurd aspect of this Supreme Court's rulings in this area have consistently been the constitutionally justified naiveté of the majority opinion, confidently stating that, "We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption ... The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy."

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion is astoundingly idealistic in a way similar to Justice Scalia's absurdist literal way of explaining that women are not protected by the American Constitution. Yes, he actually believes that.

Citizen's United unhinged our political process, and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission has the potential to completely derail it. If that is the only way Republicans know how to play, then Zeus help us.

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Shwetika Baijal

Shwetika is PolicyMic's first columnist and writes for the Millenials and the Media column. She focuses on how the media frames policy and cultural issues, how the media's framing effects public opinion, and in turn how public opinion affects the policies and issues under discussion.

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