In a significant campaign finance decision, the Supreme Court struck down one of the key limits on federal campaign contributions. The Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC eliminated the two-year aggregate campaign contribution limits, one of the pillars of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended.
Before McCutcheon, individual donors were prohibited from contributing more than $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to all federal political action committees and federal party committees for a total cap of $123,200 during a two-year election cycle. In McCutcheon, the Supreme Court ruled that the aggregate limits infringed on political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts opined that “Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption,” but the aggregate limits did not serve the purpose of combating corruption.1 While the McCutcheon decision eliminates the aggregate limits, the individual limits remain in place. For the current 2013-2014 election cycle, the base federal limits for individuals are:
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Though McCutcheon only addresses the federal aggregate limits, many states have similar laws. Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Wyoming all have aggregate limits, with some restricted to one-year cycles. Some municipalities also have aggregate limits, including Washington, DC, and San Francisco. Each of these laws may be challenged and are at risk of being struck down based on the Court’s reasoning in McCutcheon. Several states have started reviewing whether or not to continue enforcing their aggregate limits. The Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance announced that it will stop enforcing the Commonwealth’s aggregate limits on donations to individual candidates.
McCutcheon highlights the rapidly changing nature of campaign finance regulation in the United States. Campaign finance compliance at the federal, state and local levels remains rife with challenges as regulatory schemes continue to evolve. Contributions should always be vetted in advance to ensure compliance at all levels.