Over the coming days, we will examine closely some of the different issues and implications raised by the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC. Right now, however, we will focus on what the Court actually did:
- The Court struck down the caps on the total, combined amounts that any one individual may give to federal candidates, parties and PACs over the course of a two-year election cycle. The suit did not challenge – and the Court left standing – the so-called “base limits,” or the amounts that any one person may give to any one federal candidate, PAC or party. Thus, for example, an individual may still only contribute up to $2,600 per election to a candidate. But there is no longer any ceiling on the total amount that an individual may give to all federal candidates, PACs and parties combined over the course of the two-year election cycle. The Court held that the First Amendment does not permit such a cap on an individual’s overall political giving.
- There were actually two caps at issue in McCutcheon: one on an individual’s total giving to all federal candidates, and another on an individual’s total giving to all federal PACs and party committees. The Court struck them both down. During the 2014 election cycle, the cap on how much an individual could give to all federal candidates combined was $48,600. The cap on how much an individual could give to all federal PACs and parties combined was $74,600, of which no more than $48,600 could be given to committees other than national parties. These caps were indexed to inflation and would have increased in 2015.
- The caps the Supreme Court struck down in McCutcheon only applied to individual giving. Federal PACs, partnerships, Native American tribes and other federally lawful sources were not subject to these caps. Moreover, contributions to Super PACs, recount funds, state and local candidates, and the non-federal accounts of state and local parties have never been subject to these caps and are unaffected by the decision.
- The principal opinion identified eight states that place similar caps on contributions in state and local elections: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Wyoming. These states’ laws were not before the Court. But the Court’s decision provides no reason to think that they remain valid.