Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, will go down in the history books as a champion of free speech. The Alabama businessman was the named appellant in the Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling, a 5-4 decision that overturned aggregate political contribution limits. The Supreme Court’s ruling means that individuals can now donate money to an unlimited number of candidates across the country, so long as those donations remain under a certain threshold.
The ruling is a victory for those who advocate all forms of the first amendment, but opponents of the Supreme Court’s decision claim that relinquishing contribution limits will create an unfair advantage in the political playing field.
The Boston Globe applauded the decision, and noted that the ruling does not give any candidate a monetary advantage:
The ruling didn’t alter the maximum contribution that can be given to any candidate ($2,600 for each primary or general election), but by striking down the overall ceiling, it restored the right of Americans to support as many candidates as they wish. Yet instead of celebrating this expansion of liberty, many liberals bewail it.
Chief Justice Roberts explains the decision:
“Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades – despite the profound offense such spectacles cause – it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opinion.”
It’s wishful thinking to believe that politics can be made fair. As Americans, we want to believe that if everyone has an equal voice, there will be less government corruption. However, silencing voices by attempting to limit an individual’s choice to financially contribute to a campaign will not make it “fair.” Here’s why:
1. We can’t give the same because we don’t make the same.
Salaries and hourly wages vary depending upon what job you hold and where you work. Not every person in America makes the same amount of money in a day, a week or a year. Imagine that you offer an affluent business man or woman the opportunity to donate $2,000 to Candidate A’s campaign. When you make the same offer to a less well-off man or woman, he or she explains that they only have $100 to donate to the campaign. In order to level the playing field, you would have to tell the first business man or woman that, unfortunately, you are only able to accept 100 of their $2,000 contribution, even though they want to and are able to contribute all $2,000 to Candidate A’s campaign. If a third contributor could only donate $1 to the campaign, you would have to lower the contribution ceiling even more, and Candidate A would have a difficult time raising enough funds. Lowering the contribution ceiling doesn’t work, and it will never work. The truth of the matter is, we can’t all give the same amount because we don’t make the same amount.
2. It’s not just individuals who contribute during an election cycle.
PACs, Super PACs, and unions contribute a larger amount to campaigns than individuals do. Citizens United vs. FEC was a landmark decision in 2010 that lifted limits for political action committees, also known as PACs. PACs collect an exorbitant amount of money in support of a certain candidate or campaign. They do not give direct financial support to such candidates; however, they fund political ads, send out mailers, and promote their candidate in other ways.
3. It’s not always about power.
Forbes believes we should entertain this possibility:
The campaign finance debate is not necessarily about money or power. At least entertain the very real possibility that many of the strongest proponents of responsible deregulation are disinterested participants in a fundamental and continuing discussion, and that they are no less committed to their notion of democracy than those who believe that money, by definition, always corrupts.
Yes, Mr. McCutcheon is considered to be wealthy, but his pockets aren’t endless. He spent a lot of money taking this case to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t an easy journey for him: he stood up for a set of principles, even when no one else believed he was right, and took a lot of heat for doing so.
There isn’t a simple solution to the campaign finance debate, and I don’t claim to know the answer to these problems. However, I do know that silencing voices is NOT the solution. We will continue to fight over campaign contributions for decades to come, but the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case has ensured that people who contribute to political campaigns can have their voices heard more rather than less.