ORAL ARGUMENTS are set to commence in a mere two weeks for McCutcheon v FEC, a Supreme Court case that could decide the constitutionality of biennial limits on individual donors’ total contributions to candidates, PACs, and parties. LobbyBlog last wrote on the case in March, citing lobbyists’ misgivings towards a future without a contribution ceiling. One such lobbyist, Tony Podesta, explained how a total contribution cap “is helpful to fend off entreaties from candidates who need more money.”
Now, OpenSecrets is pushing the argument that by abolishing the biennial cap, the Supreme Court would effectively nullify all contribution limits. Bob Biersack, Senior Fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics and contributor to OpenSecrets blog, calls this hypothesis “McCutcheon’s Multiplying Effect.” Currently, donors cannot give more than $74,600 total for each two-year cycle to PACs and parties, and no more than $5,000 each calendar year to a single PAC. Because of the biennial cap, each donor is ultimately limited to the number of PACs to which he or she can contribute. If, therefore, the biennial cap is abolished, so too would this limit.
So how would this negate the force of limits imposed on individual candidate contributions (currently set at $2,600 per election), which aren’t even being considered in the McCutcheon case? Here’s the crux of Biersack’s argument: “One of the first things that would surely happen without overall limits would be a wave of newly created PACs focused on specific candidate’s campaigns…” In other words, candidate X, now limited by the number of income sources from which his campaign depends, would benefit from a potentially infinite number of nominally varied PACs, all of which would transfer some portion of its coffers to him. Biersack again: “Without [biennial] limits, tens of thousands could become hundreds of thousands and hundreds of thousands could turn into millions….So much for $2,600 per election.”
So while it’s still possible the Supreme Court could reach beyond the scope of biennial limits and question other limits imposed by the FEC, it’s likely, according to Open Secrets, that it could achieve the same result with far less effort. The biennial cap seems much like a keystone holding the other limits in place. Pulling it out sends the whole edifice crumbling down.