WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court’s conservative majority voted Wednesday to free wealthy donors to give to as many political candidates and campaigns as they want, further loosening the reins on giving by big contributors as the 2014 campaign moves into high gear.
It was a fresh declaration by the 5-4 majority that many limits on big-money contributions violate the givers’ constitutional free-speech rights, continuing a steady erosion of the restrictions under Chief Justice John Roberts. The biggest of those rulings was the 2010 decision in the Citizens United case that lifted restrictions on independent spending by corporations and labor unions.
Wednesday’s ruling voided the overall federal limit on individuals’ contributions – $123,200 in 2013 and 2014 – and may have more symbolic than substantive importance in a world in which millions in unlimited donations from liberal and conservative spenders already are playing a major role in campaigns.
The ruling will allow the wealthiest contributors to pour millions of dollars into candidate and party coffers, although those contributions will be subject to disclosure under federal law, unlike much of the big money that independent groups spend on attack ads.
The early beneficiaries could be the political parties, which have lost influence amid the rise of independent spending, and challengers who may have been cut off from getting money from wealthy contributors who previously hit the cap that the court invalidated Wednesday.
Roberts said the aggregate limits do not act to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption, the rationales the court has upheld as justifying contribution limits.
The overall limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities’,” Roberts said, quoting from the court’s seminal 1976 campaign finance ruling in Buckley v. Valeo. By contrast, Roberts said the individual or “base limits remain the primary means of regulating campaign contributions.”