SCOTUS conservatives again question campaign finance limits effect on free speech

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The U.S. Supreme Court appears to be ready to deliver another serious blow to the regulation of fundraising in American politics.

According to Josh Gerstein and Byron Tau in Politico, in hearing oral arguments Tuesday in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the conservative Supreme Court majority seemed doubtful of an element of the campaign finance law that has stood for forty years.

The issue rests on limits by the federal government on the combined amount of money a person can contribute to federal candidates, political action committees and candidates of national political parties.

Currently the allowable contribution limits are $48,600 to candidate committees and $74,600 to PACs and party committees during each two-year cycle. Attorneys argued that those limits burden freedom of speech while failing to keep elected officials from corruption.

Chief Justice John Roberts recognized concerns that lifting contribution limits could send the country into a new era of “soft money,” something that changed with the 2002 passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. However, Roberts also expressed concern that those limits did affect First Amendment rights.

Justice Stephen Breyer suggested returning the case to the lower court for further examination on the consequences of lifting limits on contributions.

Opponents of campaign finance laws believe McCutcheon will further the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which struck down a ban on corporations making separate payments in elections. They say that the resulting rise of Super PACs has made the decades-old rules on overall donations ineffective.

Afterwards, McCutcheon and his lawyers said they were encouraged by the direction of the arguments during Tuesday’s session.

”It went very positively from my perspective,” McCutcheon told Politico. “This is about First Amendment free speech … all Americans are entitled to free speech.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.