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Alabama Businessman Upends 40-Year-Old Campaign Law

  |   By: John Hammontree     |   News

A Hoover, Ala., businessman successfully challenged existing campaign contribution limits in the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Shaun McCutcheon, CEO of Coalmont Electrical Development, argued against the $123,200 cap on contributions an individual can give to all federal candidates, parties and PACs in a two-year election cycle.

The 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission rules that limits on the aggregate total of contributions donors can give to all candidates, committees and political parties are unconstitutional.

The ruling removes 40-year-old contribution barriers to the country’s wealthiest donors, arguably affording them greater influence in federal elections.

“The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combatting corruption and its appearance,” Chief Justice Roberts states in the majority opinion. “We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.”

The decision is considered to be the most significant campaign-finance decision since the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which enabled corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds independently in order to influence elections.

The decision split largely along ideological lines, with the court’s four most liberal justices offering a dissenting opinion.

“Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today’s 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 writes.

The decision does not affect the existing $2,600 limit a donor can give to an individual federal candidate in each primary and general election or the $32,400 limit that can go to a national party committee.

McCutcheon is currently finance director of the Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee and chairman of Conservative Action Fund, a conservative Super PAC. McCutcheon argued in his suit against the Federal Election Commission that lifting the ban on aggregate contributions could help candidates and parties counter the influence of Super PACs.

Follow John on Twitter at @JohnHammontree

John Hammontree is an Account Executive for Text100 in San Francisco, CA. Though life has taken him from Memphis to Birmingham to Chicago to DC and, now, to the Bay Area, his heart has never left Alabama.