In another sharp blow to the campaign- finance system in effect since the 1970s, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a key contribution limit in federal races — allowing big donors to cut checks to as many congressional candidates as they want.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices eliminated the $123,200 cumulative limit that an individual could contribute to candidates and political committees, starting with the 2013-14 election cycle.
Deep-pocketed donors will now be able to spread around their money to campaigns nationwide, while individuals will remain free to set up outside organizations that can plow unlimited sums promoting candidates and pet causes.
The maximum donation to a single candidate’s campaign account stays at $2,600 per election cycle.
But under Wednesday’s ruling, a single donor conceivably could give $2,600 to candidates in all 435 House races in every two-year election cycle, plus candidates in 33 or 34 Senate races.
“This in itself is a small step, but another step on the road to ruination,” fretted Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) denounced the ruling as a “threat to our democracy.”
But Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the overturned limits on campaign donations had been an unconstitutional curb on protected free-speech rights.
“If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech, despite popular opposition,” he wrote.
Experts said the ruling is almost sure to have an effect on New York state’s election laws, which place an annual individual limit of $150,000.
The ruling follows the landmark Citizens United case in 2010 that let unions and corporations spend unlimited amounts to back candidates (source).