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DENVER - Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon v. FEC to strike down overall, or aggregate, contribution limits to candidates and political committees. U.S. PIRG research found that this ruling could bring $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from fewer than 2,800 elite donors through the 2020 election cycle.
“In Citizens United the Supreme Court handed a giant megaphone to the wealthiest interests, and now with their ruling in McCutcheon, they’ve turned up the volume even higher,” said Lisa Ritland, CoPIRG field director.
In this case, Alabama donor Shaun McCutcheon asked the Court to strike down the overall limit on what an individual can give to federal candidates, parties, and PACs in a two-year election cycle. Before today’s decision, that limit stood at $123,200 – more than twice the average income for U.S. households today. In 2012, only 1,219 donors came within 10% of hitting the aggregate limit. Research from U.S. PIRG and Demos projects that now that the aggregate limit has been struck down, this same set of 1,219 donors will more than triple their gifts to $459.3 million.
The Supreme Court has never before struck down a federal contribution limit, having maintained that these limits are constitutional because they prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.
“The last thing we need right now is to increase the giving of the donors with the deepest pockets,” said Ritland. “It’s time for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Court’s wrong-headed decisions to permit a handful of millionaires and corporate interests to dominate our elections.”
In the 2012 election, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 65, which directed Colorado’s U.S. Congress members to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow for campaign contribution limits. Voters approved the measure 74% to 26%, and it passed in every county. This sent lawmakers a powerful message: Get big money out of politics.
“Colorado voters have said over and over that they don’t want the wealthiest few buying our elections,” said Elena Nunez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause. “This decision lays out a welcome mat for corruption, here in Colorado and across the country. A constitutional amendment, which Colorado voters called for by passing Amendment 65 in 2012, is the only way to stop the Supreme Court from allowing millionaires to drown out the rest of us.”
“With today’s ruling, the reforms put in place after Watergate are all but eviscerated,” said Ali Cochran, regional director with Colorado Fair Share. “Five Supreme Court justices have created a ‘Wild West’ of campaign finance regulation. It is time for ‘we the people’ to restore order through the constitutional amendment process. This is why we have called for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United – and now to reverse McCutcheon as well.”
According to Peg Perl, staff counsel at Colorado Ethics Watch, the McCutcheon decision is likely to increase the influence of big donors over federal candidates who already rely heavily on these donors to fund their campaigns, but the impact of the decisions on state elections remains uncertain.
“Colorado state campaign finance law does not include an aggregate individual donor limit like the one at issue in the Supreme Court case, so the impact of this decision, if any, on state and local campaigns is yet to be seen. But the voters of Colorado have strongly supported limiting the influence of big-money donors in our state elections, and we don’t expect this decision to change that,” said Perl.
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