More Money in Elections? What today's McCutcheon decision means for New Mexico elections

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The Republican party won another big victory, some say on par with Citizens United v. FEC, in the Supreme Court today as their lawsuit to remove comprehensive donation caps from federal elections was OK’d by conservative members of the high court, 5-4.

Now super-donors no longer have to chose between giving maximum contributions to the Republican Party of New Mexico or Wisconsin, or between maxing out to Steve Pearce or Paul Ryan.  They can give maximum contributions to every candidate, every party and unlimited dollars to PACs.  Welcome to the age of super money in politics.

What does this all mean?  Here’s a quick summary from Pete Williams at NBC News:

Further loosening the reins on the role of money in politics, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down restrictions on the grand total that any person can contribute to all federal candidates for office.

Today’s decision left intact the cap of $2,600 per election that a contributor to give to any single candidate for federal office, but it invalidated the separate limit on how much can be contributed to all federal candidates put together — $48,600.

The law was challenged by the Republican Party and an Alabama businessman, Shaun McCutcheon, who argued that the contribution ceilings were an unconstitutional restriction on his free expression.

“It’s about freedom of speech and your right to spend your money on as many candidates as you choose. It’s a basic freedom,” McCutcheon said in bringing the challenge.

Supporters of what’s known as the aggregate contribution limit said its purpose was to help prevent corruption. Without it, warned Fred Wertheimer, a longtime proponent of federal regulation of contributions, “you will establish a system of legalized bribery like we used to have before the Watergate scandals.”

Under the aggregate limits, an individual could donate a maximum of $48,600 to all candidates for federal office plus another $74,600 to national political parties, state and local political parties, and political action committees — a grand contribution total of $123,200 per election.

— Pete Williams

Basically, under the old rules, people who had hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on elections could only give maximum contributions to a few number of candidates and political parties.

In the dissent by four liberal members of the Court, Justice Breyer writes:

It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate’s campaign. Taken together with Citi zens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

Court nerds can read the entire opinion online here.