Power to the people

Campaign finance ruling gives citizens greater political influence

This newspaper supports political candidates through editorial endorsements. That’s our First Amendment right to free speech, expression and association. And it doesn’t change if we endorse one candidate or 100.

The Supreme Court wisely ruled that those same freedoms apply to you when you support political candidates through financial contributions.

Wednesday’s 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission makes it unconstitutional to limit the total amount of your campaign contributions.

“The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority.

The ruling repeals 1970s-era laws capping an individual’s total contributions to multiple candidates and political action committees for federal races at $123,200. The limits for individual candidates are still set at $5,200 every two years.

The changes mean an individual donor will now be able to contribute up to $3.6 million per election cycle – the sum of maximum donations to all national and state party committees and a party’s presidential and congressional candidates.

The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman who was limited in the number of candidates he could support because of the overall cap for individuals.

Due to the case’s conservative genesis, liberals decried the ruling as giving the “rich” more power and influence over Washington. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the decision “only serves to widen the floodgates of special-interest spending.”

That’s bunk.

First, it should go without saying everyone is entitled to free speech, no matter how rich or poor. The First Amendment doesn’t guarantee an even playing field – just the equal opportunity to speak, associate and engage in political activity.

Second, speech and money are inextricably bound in politics. It takes money to run a campaign. Restricting a candidate’s ability to raise or spend money is restricting his or her ability to reach the public.

Finally, conservative donors do not corner the market; big money flows both ways. In fact, a close look at campaign contributions reveals an inconvenient truth: Most high-dollar donors are liberals.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows that 14 of the top 25 political donors since 1989 are Democrat-leaning groups (13 are labor unions). Of the rest, eight are bipartisan and only three lean Republican.

Apparently, what the left really despises about the ruling is that conservatives can now engage in large-scale political activity once dominated exclusively by Big Labor.

That’s largely the same reason for the outrage over 2010’s Citizens United ruling, which paved the way for the creation of super PACs and the proliferation of nonprofit advocacy groups engaged in campaigns.

As with many issues, the left’s hypocrisy over campaign contributions is near blinding. Liberals enjoy casting conservatives such as Charles and David Koch as sinister political puppeteers while limousine liberals such as billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer get a pass.

Liberals’ message? Our rich people “good.” Your rich people “bad.”

Regardless of the rhetoric, the fact is relatively few individuals hit their limit. In 2012, the Center for Responsive Politics said only 2,972 donors maxed out to committees, and only 591 maxed out to candidates. Just 646 hit the limit on both.

The vast majority of contributions to candidates and political parties are small donations from everyday Americans totalling $100 or less.

If anything, McCutcheon tips the balance of power toward individual interests, giving citizens greater ability to influence elections instead of funneling money to collective, corporate or union interests.

That’s something we all should celebrate, regardless of ideology.

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