Opening Brief Filed in U.S. Supreme Court in Challenge to the Federal Biennial, Individual Aggregate Limits on Contributions to Political Parties and Candidates

Posted by James Madison CenterMay 06, 20130 Comments

Today the Republican National Committee filed its opening brief in McCutcheon v. FEC in the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, brought by the Republican National Committee and Shaun McCutcheon, challenges the federal biennial, individual aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and national political party committees (such as RNC).

These aggregate limits restrict how much an individual may spend on political contributions over a two-year election cycle, even though the contributions are at levels otherwise legal.

For example, an individual can legally give $2,600 per election to any candidate, or $5,200 if the candidate is supported in both primary and general elections. But the aggregate limit requires the individual to give no more than $48,600 to candidates in a two-year election cycle. Thus, the individual could only support nine candidates at the full legal base limit of $5,200.

An individual may also legally give $32,400 per year to a national party committee. The Republican Party has three of these: RNC, a senatorial committee (NRSC), and a congressional committee (NRCC). Giving the full legal $32,400 per year to each of these would exceed the permitted aggregate limit, $74,600, in just one year. And the aggregate limit would then foreclose any such contributions in the second year of the election cycle.

RNC's opening brief explains why the described aggregate limits are unconstitutional. In 1976, the Supreme Court upheld a ceiling on total contributions, in Buckley v. Valeo, but since then Congress has passed new laws fixing the problems that the Court identified in upholding the ceiling. Thus, the limits no longer serve any constitutionally permissible purpose.

“The aggregate limits no longer serve any legitimate purpose. They burden the First Amendment rights of individuals without constitutional justification. They limit how much money candidates and political parties may receive from individuals, while super-PACs and advocacy groups may raise unlimited sums for their political purposes,” said James Bopp, Jr., lead attorney for RNC. Bopp continued: “This puts candidates and political parties at a disadvantage and distorts the whole campaign-finance system. It drives money away from candidates and political parties that are the most accountable and transparent players in our elections.”

[Read the Brief Here]