Republicans big winner on landmark ruling

Lauren Schneiderman

Republicans took a victory lap Wednesday after the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision — and for good reason.

The GOP is likely to be the biggest winner from the high court’s decision to strike down aggregate campaign donation limits

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The top wealthy donors to outside groups tend to skew conservative, and now those treasured contributors can give more freely in this midterm election year to both party committees and candidates.

It’s likely to pad GOP bank accounts and increase the influence of wealthy donors in the party, and it could also help committees regain a foothold against a dizzying number of super-PACs in both primaries and general elections.

The 2010 Citizens United decision created a torrent of unlimited outside money groups.

Democrats were taken by surprise while the GOP harnessed the decision to their advantage, and the flood of new groups — many of which didn’t have to disclose their donors — helped Republicans win control of the House.

But the 2010 victory came with a negative undercurrent.

Super-PACs have also sprung up to attack the Republican establishment and take down GOP incumbents in primaries. Party leaders blame the groups in part for the GOP’s failure to win the Senate in 2010 and 2012.

Wednesday’s decision should give the parties more power.

They’ll be able to direct funds more toward their chosen candidates, and will have “more tools to control members scared of, or beholden to, super PACs,” University of California-Irvine professor Richard L. Hasen wrote earlier this year in The Washington Post.

That means Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who hailed the ruling, could exert more power over an unruly Tea Party coalition.

In a sign of the good news for the GOP, Democrats were either silent after the decision or quick to blame Republicans for the seeping influence of money in politics.

“The last thing the middle class needs right now is more money in politics,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.).

He said Democrats would use every tool at their disposal to win races, but cast his conference’s fundraising as driven by grassroots supporters.

Those grassroots, small-dollar donors have been the reason Democrats have been effective at combating growing GOP super-PAC influence in recent years. Armed with a massive online database from President Obama’s groundbreaking 2008 digital campaign efforts, the urgent email pleas for even $5 or $10 dollars has become a critical Democratic fundraising mechanism.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee by $20 million so far this cycle, in part thanks to small dollar contributions.

To be sure, the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon vs. FEC will also help Democrats.

There are big Democratic donors like George Soros and Tom Steyer, too, after all.

And just as the decision is a win for GOP party leaders and committees over outside groups, it’s a win for Democratic insiders. 

“It is a win for national party committees, and national party committees that raise significantly more than their counterparts stand to do better,” said DSCC Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter. “In addition, this will greatly enhance our ability to raise resources to support our voter contact and field program — the Bannock Street Project — in states across the country.”

Democrats also suggested the Supreme Court decision could help their party win more small-dollar contributions.

“Money in politics is something that motivates our people,” said one Democratic Party official. “We’re playing by the same set of rules — it’s not going to help [Republicans] more than that helps us.”

Good government and watchdog groups, which were unanimous in condemning the decision, said it wasn’t as good for Republicans and as bad for Democrats as the Citizens United decision.

“Who benefits are the 646 very wealthy individuals who maxed out in the last elections — among those they went about 3-2 for Republicans,” Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, told The Hill. “The question of who benefits isn’t a partisan issue in this case. It really is an issue of the very wealthy over the very rest of us. It really just benefits millionaires and no one else.”

“The bad news is if you’re not a wealthy American, the politicians of either party have very few incentives to come and court you and seek your time and money,” said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director for the Campaign Legal Center.

Taylor is the campaign editor for The Hill.

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