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McCutcheon Defends Private Money in the Political Process

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday, November 30, the Reformers Caucus released a statement warning that, “The power of excessive money in our political system threatens the integrity of our democracy.” This message conflicts with those who oppose limits on money, which they view as limits on Free Speech. The Alabama Political Reporter spoke about this with Shaun McCutcheon who went all the way to the United States Supreme Court to fight limits on the number of congressional races he could contribute to (and won).

McCutcheon said in a written response, “I disagree with anyone attempting to undermine the Constitution or threaten Free Speech. I have consistently advocated that more private money in the political process greatly benefits the public debate. Any attempt by government officials to limit political messages from private citizens should be thwarted as it is a threat to the First Amendment.”

The Reformer Caucus said in their statement, “In recent years, America has crossed a dangerous threshold. The power of excessive money in our political system threatens the integrity of our democracy.”

The bipartisan ReFormers Caucus says that it is comprised of more than 100 former senators, representatives and governors and is committed to standing together to speak out on the issue of money-in-politics. “As former members of Congress and governors, we have participated on the front lines of our campaign finance system. We know first-hand the price we all pay for a political system dominated by money.”

They propose: immediate disclosure of political giving and spending and end “dark money”; depoliticizing the Federal Election Commission and empower it to the law; break the connection between lobbying and campaign contributions and reduce conflicts of interest; intensify state and local efforts to pass laws that improve civic participation and strengthen the role of small political donors; forge a new jurisprudence that reasserts the authority of Congress to pass laws that define and regulate the role of money in federal elections and pass a constitutional amendment to ensure for future generations that voters, not just major donors, matter most in politics.

The ReFormers Caucus includes: Amb. Tim Roemer, Sec. Chuck Hagel, Gov. Jon Huntsman, Sen. Tom Daschle and Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

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On October 27, Huntsman and Tim Roemer wrote, “Our democracy is starting to look a lot like oligarchy in Politico. The fact that 158 families have provided nearly half of all the campaign cash raised so far this presidential cycle is yet more evidence of the insidious influence of money on our political system. Presidential election spending has doubled since 2000, and some experts predict next year’s contest may cost up to an astounding $10 billion. Politicians spend more than 50 percent of their time raising money, primarily from wealthy individuals or from lobbyists who represent the industries they are supposed to oversee. Special interests spend more money lobbying Congress than taxpayers spend funding Congress.”

Prominent Alabama businessman, engineer, and conservative activist Shaun McCutcheon gave the symbolically significant $1,776 to 15 candidates for Congress and wanted to give the same amount to 12 more candidates but was barred from doing so by the then existing law so brought suit claiming the law as written limited his free speech rights.

On April 2, 2014 the US Supreme Court ruled on McCutcheon v. FEC (Federal Elections Commission). In a 5-4 decision, that limits on the total amount of money individuals can give to candidates, political parties and political action committees are unconstitutional. The ruling removed the cap on contributions, which was set at $123,200 for 2014, but does not change limits on individual contributions for president or Congress.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion, “Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades – despite the profound offense such spectacles cause – it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opinion.”

The overall limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise `the most fundamental First Amendment activities,”‘ Roberts said, quoting from the court’s 1976 campaign finance ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.

Justice Clarence Thomas said that the Court did not go far enough and wrote in favor of wiping out all contribution limits.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent that, “The decision eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws.”

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Then Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said in a written statement, “Shaun’s dedication to his beliefs and determination was key to this momentous ruling; this is a tremendous win for the First Amendment! I am thankful that the Republican National Committee joined with Shaun in this lawsuit to untie the hands of donors who have the ability to give to multiple candidates.” We are so thankful and proud of the work Shaun McCutcheon has done for his country! Congratulations!”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said at the time, “Today’s Court decision in McCutcheon v FEC is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse. I am proud that the RNC led the way in bringing this case and pleased that the Court agreed that limits on how many candidates or committees a person may support unconstitutionally burden core First Amendment political activities. When free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger.”

McCutcheon and his legal team argued that political contributions are speech and thus are protected by the First Amendment. Just as someone is free to speak out against multiple congressional candidates, McCutcheon argued before the court that he has the right to give as much money as he wants, to as many candidates he chooses, and existing limits on the number of campaigns he can donate to and the aggregate amount that he can give are an unreasonable and unconstitutional burden.

The ReFormers Caucus want to see those limits on political giving reinstituted.
US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that aggregate limits have a “consequence, to sap the vitality of political parties.”


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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