News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 11, 2014

GUEST EDITORIAL: Despite high court ruling, big money may not guarantee election success


Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE — The Supreme Court has taken the predictable next step in the wake of its 2010 Citizens United decision in which it lifted the limit on donations wealthy donors can make to certain political entities.

These entities, like super political action committees and 501(c)(4) nonprofits — the kind favored by the uber-rich Koch brothers and others because the contributions can remain secret — had to operate independently of the candidate, their campaign committees and the political parties. The candidates and the parties complained, rightly, that the ruling took too much control of the candidates’ message and image out of the candidates’ hands.

Last week, the court rectified that decision in part but at the cost of expanding the role of big money in electoral politics.

Whether the 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC will be ultimately good or bad for American politics is a subject of heated argument.

The instant judgment was the decision was better for Republicans than Democrats, but witnesses to the humiliating spectacle of GOP candidates trooping to Las Vegas to tempt donations from billionaire Macau casino magnate Sheldon Adelson may want to withhold a final opinion.

In McCutcheon, the court ruled that campaign contributors may donate to as many political candidates and campaigns as they wish, eliminating a cap of $48,600 on contributions by one donor in any two-year federal election cycle.

Donors are still subject to the limit of $2,600 for a primary and $2,600 for the general election to each candidate for president and Congress. There is no longer a limit on the aggregate amount.

Big money has always been a part of American politics. George Washington plied the voters with 144 gallons of rum, punch, hard cider and beer — back when that represented a sizable outlay — to win election to a state office. Big money has always eluded, to a greater or lesser degree, meaningful attempts to limit it or control it.

With the possible exception of the ability to buy unlimited local TV time, big money may not be the determining factor in campaigns it once was.

The ability to hire unlimited consultants, image molders and campaign strategists is probably also overrated. Just ask presidents Al Gore and Mitt Romney. Oh, wait.