Beware of a Naive Perspective: A Prebuttal to Possible U.S. Supreme Court Rulings in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (Part 2)

  • Description

Many believe that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts will provide the swing vote in the court's decision in Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (McCutcheon), a case challenging the constitutionality of caps on the total amount of campaign contributions an individual may make to candidates, political parties, and political action committees. Based on his comments during oral arguments, some have speculated that Roberts will vote to strike down limits on aggregate contributions to candidates but will support maintaining limits on contributions to parties and political action committees (PACs). We illustrated in Part 1 of this two-part series that eliminating limits on aggregate contributions to candidates while leaving other aggregate limits intact would enable joint fundraising committees (JFCs) operated by party leaders and elected officials to solicit contributions as large as $2.5 million from a single donor. This report shows that a supposed middle ground that permitted unlimited aggregate contributions to candidates but retained caps on contributions to parties would also likely end up eroding the integrity of limits on contributions to parties. Under a scenario in which only caps on total contributions to candidates were struck down, the party leaders and elected officials who administer joint fundraising committees would likely end up soliciting checks of more than $2.5 million from major donors. The vast majority of these contributions would be distributed to candidates in increments of $5,200 per recipient. However, because candidates could transfer their share of contributions received from JFCs to party committees, leaders of JFCs, would likely pressure candidates, the majority of whom are running in uncompetitive races, to redirect that money to back party committees. Using conservative estimates about the number of major donors that would contribute $2.5 million to a joint fundraising committee if the court eliminated caps on total contributions to candidates, and data on the number of competitive and non-competitive congressional races in recent election cycles, we estimate that eliminating the aggregate limit on contributions to candidates could enable candidates to transfer more than $74 million to the national party committees combined. Each donor would effectively be contributing the equivalent of more than $1.8 million to party committees, or more than 24 times the legal limit.