During an era of public outcry against government corruption, the Supreme Court conservatives strike down limits on campaign contributions

The Supreme Court - where old politicians go to die

Yesterday, the Supreme Court continued to ignore the voice of U.S. citizens, striking down a decades-old cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates.  The justices said in a 5-4 vote that Americans have a right to give the legal maximum to candidates for Congress and president, as well as to parties and PACs, without worrying that they will violate the law when they bump up against a limit on all contributions, set at $123,200 for 2013 and 2014.  According to the Supreme Court, caps on campaign contributions restrict a person’s First Amendment free speech rights.

Chief Justice Roberts compared monetary political contributions to “free speech” when he wrote:

“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 opposition.”

The decision of course, was split along party lines with conservatives making up the majority.  Although Judges do not publicly profess membership in a party, it is fairly easy to pinpoint which party they belong to.  Chief Justice Roberts (R), Antonin Scalia (R), Anthony Kennedy (R) and Samuel Alito (R), and Clarence Thomas (R) voted in support of striking down the campaign contribution limits.  It is the latest in a string of decisions rolling back campaign-finance regulations.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Democrats said the ruling would open the floodgates to more corrosive money in politics. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) said striking down the aggregate limits would empower billionaires to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”

The ruling follows the court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United case, where a similar Republican-dominated 5-4 majority overruled two precedents to throw out limits on political spending by corporations and unions.

Just Breyer read his dissent from the bench and said:

“Giving, say, $3,000 or more to each of 435 candidates, a total of $1.3 million, certainly can give rise to corruption or fear of corruption.  If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision may well open a floodgate [so that] a few large donations drown out the voices of the many.”

Congress enacted campaign contribution limits in the wake of Watergate-era abuses to discourage big contributors from trying to buy votes with their donations and to restore public confidence in the campaign finance system. Today the Supreme Court’s decision will once again, increase the role money plays in American politics.

Sources: CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Wikipedia, New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post

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