WASHINGTON – A divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down decades-old limits on the total money donors can give to federal candidates and parties, issuing its biggest campaign-finance ruling since the 2010 Citizens United decision.
Voting 5-4 along ideological lines, the court on Wednesday said the caps violated the speech rights of Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican official seeking to give candidates, parties and political committees more than the $123,200 maximum.
The court stopped short of undercutting a 1976 ruling that allows caps on contributions to individual candidates. For instance, donors will still be limited to giving $2,600 to a federal candidate for each election.
The overall limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise the most fundamental First Amendment activities,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s lead opinion.
The loosening of campaign-finance restrictions has become a hallmark of the court under Roberts. The Citizens United ruling helped fuel an explosion of campaign spending, with spending from candidates, parties and outside groups topping $6 billion in 2012. Today’s ruling may affect November’s congressional elections, as Republicans seek to take control of the Senate.
Though Wednesday’s ruling isn’t likely to approach the effect of Citizens United, it will give more freedom to wealthy donors looking to use their money to make a political impact.
Taken together with Citizens United, the decision “eviscerates our nation’s campaign-finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in dissent.