The Supreme Court today struck down the overall limits on the total amounts that an individual could give to party committees and to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle.
The Court today held that the overall contribution limits were not necessary to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption. In so doing, the Court continued to turn a blind eye to the reality of American politics and continued to operate as a super legislature rather than as a judicial body.
The real impact of this decision is seen in what can and will happen next, now that joint fundraising committees can be used by federal officeholders to solicit huge contributions from individual donors.
Until today, the overall limits for the 2014 election cycle were $74,600 for total contributions by an individual to all party committees and $48,600 in total contributions by an individual to all federal candidates.
In striking the limits, the Supreme Court has paved the way for federal officeholders to solicit and individual donors to contribute to political parties through joint fundraising committees more than $1 million per donor in a two-year election cycle.
The Court’s decision also paved the way for federal officeholders to solicit, and individual donors to contribute, more than $2 million per donor in a two year election cycle to joint fundraising committees supporting all federal candidates.
And the decision paved the way for federal officeholders to solicit and individual donors to contribute, more than $3 million per donor in an election cycle to joint fundraising committees supporting all party committees and all federal candidates of that party.
The history of money in American politics is that officeholders, candidates and political operatives will do whatever they are allowed to do. This is what we saw with the now prohibited soft money system in the 1990s. This is what we are seeing with the new era of Super PACs.
And this is what we can now expect to see with officeholders, candidates and parties using joint fundraising committees to raise seven figure contributions, now that the overall contribution limits have been struck down.
Candidates, officeholders and parties will solicit and donors will give the maximum amounts that are permitted under the law.
The McCutcheon decision reestablishes the dangerous and direct opportunities for corruption that arise when federal officeholders solicit huge contributions from influence-seeking donors seeking to buy government decisions.
Using Joint Fundraising Committees to Raise $1 Million, $2 Million and $3 Million Contributions
In the 2012 presidential election, President Obama and Mitt Romney each had joint fundraising committees consisting of their campaign committee, their national party committee and several state party committees.
The only effective limit on contributions to joint fundraising committees have been the overall contribution limits on the amount a donor can give in aggregate to all party committees and to all candidates. Because of today’s Court decision, those limits are now gone.
In 2012, the limit on individual donations to the joint fundraising committees used by Obama and Romney was the overall contribution limit of $70,800, the maximum amount a single donor could give to all political party committees in the 2012 election cycle.
There were 1,257 individual donors who each gave the maximum of $70,800 to the Obama and Romney joint fundraising committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Without the limits struck down today, the presidential candidates could solicit contributions of more than $1 million per donor in the next presidential election.
In 2012, 1,715 donors gave the maximum amount to party committees, including the donors who gave through the Obama and Romney joint fundraising committees. There were also 591 donors also gave the maximum amount to federal candidates ($46,200 for the 2012 election cycle).
Joint fundraising committees consist of two or more candidate and/or party committees working together to raise contributions for their mutual benefit.
Officeholders and candidates can solicit and donors can write a single check to the joint committee in an amount up to the overall total amount of the contribution limit for each of the participating committees. The joint committee then distributes the funds to each of the participating committees.
Joint fundraising committees have long been used to solicit and raise contributions from individuals in amounts that are much larger than the amounts that could be given to a single candidate or single party committee.
Since there are no limits on internal transfers between party committees, all of the contributions to individual party committees could end up in one party committee and could be spent by that committee to support the officeholder or candidate who solicited the contribution.
How the Joint Fundraising Committees Would Work
The following explains how the joint fundraising committees would work to allow officeholders to solicit and donors to individual contributions of $1 million, $2 million or $3 million:
- A party’s presidential candidate could form a joint fundraising committee and solicit a contribution of as much as $1,199,600 from a single donor for the election cycle. This would include:
The maximum contribution for their own campaign committee ($5,200); plus
The maximum contribution for the three national party committees ($64,800 each, for total of $194,000); plus
The maximum contribution for all state party committees ($20,000 each, for a total of $1,000,000).
- The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, or their Republican counterparts, could form a joint fundraising committee, including their congressional party committees and the committees of their congressional candidates. The leaders could solicit and donors could contribute contributions to the joint committee of as much as $2,563,200 per donor for the election cycle. This would include:
The maximum contributions per cycle for their party’s two congressional campaign committees (the DSCC and DCCC, or the NRSC and NRCC) for a total of $64,800 for each committee and $129,600 for both committees; plus
The maximum contributions for 435 House and 33 Senate candidates ($5,200 per candidate, for total of $2,433,600).
- The current President, Senate Majority Leader and House Democratic Leader, or the current House Speaker and Senate Republican leader could form a joint fundraising committee with their national party committees, their state party committees and the committees of their federal candidates. They could solicit and donors could give individual contributions of as much as $3,633,200 per donor for the election cycle. This would include:
The maximum contributions for their three national party committees ($64,800 each, for total of $194,400); plus
The maximum contributions for all their state party committees ($20,000 each, for a total of $1,000,000); plus
The maximum contributions for their party’s presidential candidate and each of the party’s House and Senate candidates ($5,200 each, for a total of $2,438,800).
- A member of Congress could form a joint fundraising committee with his or her own campaign committee, and the Member’s three national party committees. The Member could solicit and donors could provide contributions of as much as $199,200 per donor for the election cycle. This would include:
The maximum contribution for the Members’ own campaign committee ($5,200); plus
The maximum contribution for the three national party committees ($64,800 each, for total of $194,000).
The funds given to two of the national party committees could be transferred to the third party committee, the House or Senate party committee where the Member serves, and the nearly $200,000 contribution could be spent by that party committee to support the Member who solicited the funds.