US Supreme Court strikes down overall donor limits

Joan Stallard (left) of Washington DC talks in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington DC 2 April 2014 Critics say the ruling will expand even further the influence of big money in politics

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The US Supreme Court has struck down overall contribution limits for individual political donors.

The court ruled 5-4 that individuals could give to candidates, parties and political groups without observing an overall cap of $123,200 (£74,000).

The ruling leaves in place the limit on how much a donor can give to a single candidate - currently $2,600 (£1,560).

The decision is the latest in a series which have loosened restrictions on US campaign finance.

Contribution limits were established by Congress in the 1970s in an attempt to restore the public's faith in government after President Richard Nixon's resignation in the Watergate scandal.

'How you choose'

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in Wednesday's majority opinion that overall limits "intrude without justification" on first amendment rights, the clause of the US constitution that enshrines freedom of speech.

Start Quote

Today's decision eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws ”

End Quote Stephen Breyer Supreme Court judge

Critics say the ruling will expand even further the influence of big money in politics.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court lifted limits on election spending by political action committees, in a landmark case known as Citizens United.

Last year the court removed restrictions on states with a history of race-biased voting laws.

That prompted activists to say the court was making it harder to vote in but easier to buy elections.

Wednesday's decision split the court along its liberal and conservative wings, with Justice Stephen Breyer taking the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench.

'A great day', but for who?

"A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundamental rights for all citizens doesn't sound much like a functioning democracy to me" - Ari Berman in the Nation

"The Court has reversed nearly 40 years of its own precedents, laid out a welcome mat for corruption, and turned its back on the lessons learned from the Watergate scandal" - Miles Rapoport of Common Cause

"This latest outburst of judicial activism in the struggle to render campaign finance laws completely toothless is merely accelerating a historical process that is coming to seem almost inevitable" - Paul Campos in Salon

"This is a great day for the First Amendment, and a great day for political speech" - Chris Chocola, of Club for Growth

He wrote: "Taken together with [Citizens United], 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."

The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican and owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corporation in Alabama.

Before the US elections two years ago, Mr McCutcheon made individual donations to 15 congressional candidates.

But he was unable to donate to another dozen candidates because that would have broken the overall limit.

"It's a very important case about your right to spend your money how you choose," Mr McCutcheon has said.

He told the Associated Press news agency that he planned to spend several hundred thousand dollars ahead of November's midterm elections.

The US government's lawyer, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, argued during the case that without the overall limit, one donor giving the maximum allowed to every congressional candidate, political party and political action committee would top $3m in a single election cycle.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 646 donors in the 2012 election cycle hit the overall donation limit.

They gave $93m to candidates and committees.

A $2.5bn election: Where the money comes from

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