McCutcheon et al v. Federal Election Commission

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Election Law
  • Date Filed: April 2, 2014
  • Case #: 12-536
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Roberts, C.J. announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Scalia, Kennedy, and Alito, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

The aggregate limit provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971(as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002) that put limits on how much total money a contributor can donate to all federal candidates violates First Amendment protection for political expression and political association.

Appellant made political contributions during the 2013-2014 federal elections cycle. The contributions included a total of $33,088 to 16 different federal candidates in accordance with the base limit provisions, which limit contribution to individual candidates to $2,600 for a primary or general election ($5,200 total for the election cycle). 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(1). Appellant sought to contribute an additional $1,776 to an additional 12 federal candidates. However, those contributions would have been in violation of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) of 2002, which for the 2013-2014 federal election cycle created an aggregate limit that caps contributors at a total of $48,600 in donations to all federal candidates. Appellant challenged the statute as violation of the First Amendment. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that the aggregate limits prevent potential donors from evading the base limits to contributions to individual donors and passed scrutiny under the First Amendment because the aggregate limit furthers the government’s interest in limiting corruption.

The US Supreme Court found that the majority opinion in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976), while addressing how base limits to contributions furthers the government’s interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, did not discuss whether aggregate limits further the government’s interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption because the issue was not raised by the parties in that case. In the Court’s reasoning, the majority determined that in order for contributors to donate to more candidates under the aggregate limit, donors would be forced into giving less money, which the majority viewed as penalizing the individual and prevented “robust exercise” of First Amendment freedoms. The Court held that while the government has a legitimate interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption, the aggregate limits in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (as amended by the BCRA) are not “closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgement of [First Amendment] associational freedoms.”

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