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Supreme Court Loosens Campaign Finance Laws


Senator Charles Schumer speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill about the Supreme Court decision on campaign financing, April 2, 2014.

Senator Charles Schumer speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill about the Supreme Court decision on campaign financing, April 2, 2014.

The U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday issued an important ruling that further loosens restrictions on campaign contribution limits, possibly opening the way for even greater influence by wealthy donors.

By a vote of 5-4, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court struck down overall limits on campaign contributions for individual donors who wish to support federal candidates, political parties and political action committees.

The previous overall limit for any one donor during a two-year election cycle was $123,200. The high court decision opens the way for wealthy donors to contribute millions of dollars to various campaigns and political parties, an influence that has grown since another sweeping campaign finance decision by the Supreme Court in 2010.

Wednesday’s ruling does not do away with current restrictions on contributions to individual candidates, which remain set at $2,600 per candidate per election cycle.

The ruling got a favorable reaction from Republicans, including National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, who spoke to reporters in a conference call.

“The First Amendment applies to all of us. People should have the right to give their money and exercise their free speech to as many candidates and as many political committees and PACs [political action committees] as they want to," said Priebus.

Democrats blasted the narrow decision as a defeat for the average voter and a victory for wealthy donors looking to have undue influence on U.S. elections.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York was critical of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

“They wish to dismantle all limits on giving, piece by piece, until we are back to the days of the robber barons when anyone or anything could give unlimited money, undisclosed, and make our political system seem so rigged that everyone will lose interest in our democracy," said Schumer.

The decision also drew negative reviews from various groups that support strengthening campaign finance laws to guard against political corruption.

Marge Baker is with People For the American Way in Washington. She says this latest high court ruling could fire up grass roots support for tougher laws and restrictions to guard against buying influence with political candidates.

“There is a movement building around the country calling for addressing the huge money in politics problem that we have and that movement is growing every day," said Baker.

But conservative Republicans in Congress are likely to block any attempt in the near future to tighten campaign finance laws.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is a longtime critic of campaign finance reform. He equates giving political contributions to the free speech guarantee in the U.S. Constitution.

“There are many wealthy Americans who feel deeply about the country, who are committed to one side or the other, who are trying to have an impact on the country, as many on the left as on the right," said McConnell.

Senator McConnell was a supporter of the controversial Supreme Court decision four years ago known as Citizens United that removed a number of restrictions on corporations and labor unions that wish to spend money on campaign advocacy as long as it is independent of specific candidates.

Outside political groups and individual wealthy donors have played a bigger role in recent national elections, and in some cases have become as influential as the two main political parties in terms of fundraising.

Polls show Americans are concerned about the growing influence of wealthy campaign donors, but the issue ranks low on the list of priorities for most voters.

This latest high court ruling continues to reverse a trend that began in the 1970's when Congress enacted stricter campaign finance laws in the wake of the Watergate political scandal that drove then-president Richard Nixon from office.
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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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