You are probably not surprised to learn that yr Wonkette’s understanding of, and interest in, campaign finance laws is limited, because we are not that kind of Wonkblog. Perhaps Nate Silver’s 538 thingee will do some charts and Ezra Klein’s Home for Wayward Contrarian Bloggers will add some context and then we will care. But even we know when to get pissed off about campaign finance stuff, and today is that day.
This morning, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Why do you care? Because this sucker is this year’s Citizens United, and you can practically hear your right to free and fair elections tick tick ticking away, America. Where Citizens gave us those cool-ass SuperPACs so that people like Sheldon Adelson can throw $10 million at one candidate but it is totally not at one candidate because SuperPACs are magic. But wait! That didn’t really work out very well and those meddling Democrats STILL won things and we STILL haven’t broken the election system enough to completely exclude the blahs and the poors. Cue McCutcheon, which was a fight over aggregate limits. No no no no no, don’t wander off. We’ll explain! We’ll lawsplain! We’ll make it sexxxxy!
So aggregate limits are pretty much exactly like they sound. You can give monies to a lot of different pet politicians, but if you hit the aggregate limit of all those contributions, you’re done. This made a Republican very sad.
In the 2012 election cycle, a wealthy Alabama businessman named Shaun McCutcheon tried to make donations in the amount of $1,776 to 27 right-leaning congressional candidates. Not so fast, replied the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the nation’s campaign finance watchdog.
Not only does the FEC cap the amount of money a donor can give to, say, Joe Schmo for Congress ($2,600 per election in 2013-14) or the Democratic National Committee ($5,000); the FEC also puts a ceiling on the number of within-the-limit donations a donor can make in a single election cycle. In the 2012 cycle, the aggregate limit for a donor like McCutcheon was $117,000 in donations to campaigns, PACs, and party committees. […]
McCutcheon didn’t like the FEC telling him he could give $1,776 to 26 congressional candidates but not 27. (That would’ve exceeded the aggregate limit for candidate donations, which at that time was $46,200.) So he sued the FEC, and the Republican National Committee later joined his case as a co-plaintiff.
Poor little rich boy Shaun McCutcheon. How dare he not be able to buy more elections? It is his god-given right as a rich American. Poors, you have just as much right to buy an election but you have no money so suck it. The Supremes heard Shaun’s Song of Woe and agreed that if he couldn’t give more money to more people, his free speech would be forever muzzled, so they found in his favor in the now depressingly familiar 5-4 split, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the majority. This was likely an inevitability after Citizens United turned American elections into a rich person playground, but it still makes anyone that is not a rich bastard feel gutshot. But wait, says John Roberts! It will all be just fine and democracy is totally saved, because you can use the google and find out who is donating what!
With modern technology, disclosure now offers a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information. In 1976, the Court observed that Congress could regard disclosure as “only a partial measure.” Buckley, 424 U. S., at 28. That perception was understandable in a world in which information about campaign contributions was filed at FEC offices and was therefore virtually inaccessible to the average member of the public. See Brief for Cause of Action Institute as Amicus Curiae 15– 16. Today, given the Internet, disclosure offers much more robust protections against corruption. See Citizens United, supra, at 370–371. Reports and databases are availble on the FEC’s Web site almost immediately after they are filed, supplemented by private entities such as OpenSecrets.org and FollowTheMoney.org. Because massive quantities of information can be accessed at the click of a mouse, disclosure is effective to a degree not possible at the time Buckley, or even McConnell, was decided.
Mmm-hmmm. Being able to read googoo websites totally counteracts teevee ads with the American voter. Good call, John Roberts.
So what this decision means in practicals terms is that you can, if you are a rich person, give $2500 and $5000 in dribs and drabs — pocket change, really — to as many people as you want. At oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan figured out that meant that if you did it the right way, you could throw $3.5 million at one party by throwing it to all candidates and all PACs. And that’s before, of course, you start throwing your millions at SuperPACs. Couldn’t that, wondered Kagan, maybe just buy you the tiniest merest shred of influence with that party? Silly Kagan. Of course not, because John Roberts says so.
In theory, a tattered shred of our election system remains, as there is still a case — Buckley v. Valeo — that limits direct contributions to a single candidate, but of course Clarence Thomas roused himself from his near-perpetual rage-infused somnambulance to write that he’d happy toss out any campaign limits whatsoever, because freedom.
Speaking of freedom, McCutcheon supporters have fallen to their knees to praise Jesus and Mammon for this decision.
Those who supported Shaun McCutcheon hailed the decision as a step in the right direction. Reince Priebus, the chair of the Republican National Committee, tweeted, “Today’s McCutcheon decision from the Court is important 1st step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees.” And Dan Backer, a conservative attorney who first persuaded Shaun McCutcheon to challenge the aggregate limits, tweeted: “FREEEEDOMMMMM!!!!”
Yes, children, Reince and Shaun have been to the mountaintop and they have seen the Promised Land. They may not get there with us, but we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land where elections are nothing but meaningless contests between titans of industry while the American public stands slack-jawed and dicked over. What a glorious day that will be.
Ain’t freedom grand?