The rise of political 'megadonors'


Members of the Federal Election Commissioners are lashing back at the Supreme Court’s decision this week to strip away a key campaign finance restriction, contending the ruling will only add to the influence of “megadonors.”

In a scathing statement, FEC Vice Chairwoman Ann Ravel and commissioner Ellen Weintraub said they were “troubled” about the high court’s decision to do away with overall individual contribution limits.

“This decision will not increase the number of voices able to participate in the political debate,” the Democratic commissioners said. “Instead, it amplifies the voices of the few to the detriment of the many.”

Five of nine justices concluded in the ruling, handed down Wednesday, that aggregate contribution limits — the total amount donors can contribute to federal campaigns and party committees in an election cycle — violate the Constitution’s protections for free speech.

“They instead intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities,’” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a plurality opinion.

Justice Clarence Thomas  issued a seperate opinion, concurring that the aggregate caps should be lifted and arguing for the end of individual contribution limits altogether.

The aggegate limits, previously set at just over $123,200, were enacted by Congress in the early 1970s and upheld by the court’s 1976 decision in a case dubbed Buckley v. Valeo.

This week’s ruling in a case known as McCutcheon v. The FEC could potentially allow a single donor to contribute millions of dollars directly to parties and candidates in a single election cycle.

The ruling, Ravel and Weintrab said, “ignores the reality that megadonors exert enormous influence over not only the individual candidates who receive their contributions, but all legislators who seek to have their own party in power.”

The commissioners said the decision would further empower those wealthy donors with the means to spend more than $123,200, an amount, they note, that is twice the income of an average American household.

Just 646 donors reached that limit in the last election cycle, the commissioners added. 

“At a time when average citizens believe that they are shut out of the political process, we are disappointed that the Court has instead magnified the influence of a tiny minority of wealthy players.”