Unlimited political contributions put price on free speech

Andrea DeBauche, Opinion Editor

On Oct. 8, the Supreme Court heard the arguments for McCutcheon v. Federal Election Committee, concerning the limit an individual can donate to political campaigns. Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy Alabaman political donor who was then backed by the Republican National Committee, raised the case.

The issue is not how much McCutcheon can donate to one individual candidate — that is being left at $2,600 per candidate per election. He instead is arguing to increase the total amount he can donate to his party in one 2-year election cycle. As of now, the total amount any donor can give is roughly $117,000, total, for all donations to candidates or political committees, including a $46,000 limit specifically to candidates.  But McCutcheon said these limits should be lifted so as to allow him to donate up to the maximum amount per candidate, for as many
candidates as he’d like to give to.

I don’t know about you, but this is starting to smell fishy.  With unlimited personal funds being given by only the wealthiest few in the country, this could enable corruption, such as large-scale bribing, and give those wealthy few too much influence in our country’s elections.

Many of the current restrictions have been in place since 1974, after the Watergate Scandal. Around this time, the Federal Election Commission was created, and laws for monitoring campaign contributions were enacted. Starting in the ‘70s, candidates had to disclose the sources of their donations, and created restrictions for individual donations such as the ones being challenged here.

The last several years have shown similar objections to contribution restrictions, such as the most recent case in 2010 of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.  The issue is this case was whether corporations should be able to fund political campaigns.  The decision was in favor of challengers of the restriction, indeed allowing corporate donations.  The case was given to them because the Supreme Court decided that restrictions would infringe on these entities’ right of free speech.

However, there has been a lot of criticism of this decision.  President Obama has expressed his disapproval, saying that letting this case slide has allowed for further challenges of campaign restrictions, such as the current McCutcheon v. FEC. Letting these restrictions become too lax could lead to the corruption or excessive individual influence that they were created to avoid.

McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee defend their case by arguing the extent of their right to free speech. Contributors, such as McCutcheon, exercise this right by associating themselves via their donations to the politicians they support.

However, when certain people can exercise over $100,000 more worth of free speech than the average citizen, it’s a good idea to set up laws to monitor their political influence.

The laws only limit what individuals can directly donate to political campaigns; they’re still able to exercise their free speech by donating to outside political fundraising organizations or through other means.