This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC. In McCutcheon, the Court will rule on whether certain campaign finance restrictions violate the First Amendment. ATL’s Joe Patrice offered his thoughts on the oral arguments yesterday. Today, I offer an alternative perspective.
Currently, byzantine election laws restrict the total political contributions that a person can make in a two-year period, as well as the number of candidates a person can contribute the maximum amount to. The plaintiff, Shaun McCutcheon, is a suburban Alabama businessman, the owner and founder of an electrical engineering firm. McCutcheon wanted to contribute $1,776 (a very patriotic sum, indeed) to 27 candidates across the country. Each of those individual contributions in isolation was legal, falling below the $2,600 maximum amount allowed for individual contributions. Yet, had McCutcheon done so, his total contributions would have run afoul of the maximum total allowed, currently $48,600.
Supporting political causes and candidates of your choice is an exercise of your First Amendment rights. Like all constitutional rights, though, it is subject to an overriding compelling governmental interest. In the case of campaign finance restrictions, your speech rights are trumped by the government’s interest in preventing political corruption or the appearance of political corruption.
Here, McCutcheon was expressing his political values, innocently — even laudably — participating in the democratic electoral process as he contributed up to 2600 bucks to individual candidates . . . until he supported one candidate too many. Suddenly, the First Amendment no longer safeguards his political expression. Suddenly, the threat of corruption or the appearance of corruption is so great that democracy just cannot stand if Shaun McCutcheon is allowed to give a penny more to support a candidate who shares his values….
Supreme Court arguments are off and running, and the Supremes wasted no time in getting to the fun stuff. In this instance, it’s McCutcheon v. FEC, the case billed as Citizens United II: Electric Boogaloo. The conservative wing of the Court is expected to side with McCutcheon in its continuing war to make American elections safe for multi-millionaires.
Anyway, the oral argument was marked by the usual humorous sniping amongst the justices and lots of fun exchanges where counsel and the conservative justices worked overtime to subordinate reality to ideology. Up to and including Justice Scalia arguing that $3.5 million isn’t that much money for one individual to spend on an election.
Here are 3 immediate, largely stream-of-consciousness thoughts based on reading the transcript (available at the end of the post) coming out of this oral argument:
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If oral argument is a form of theater, then the U.S. Supreme Court is Broadway — the biggest and best venue in all the land. And we’ve just learned about a brilliant understudy who will be making her debut at One First Street next month.
Expectations are running high for this talented protégé of a celebrated SCOTUS litigator. Who is playing Eve Harrington to Paul Clement’s Margo Channing?
Take the words “all contributors.” Now close your eyes and contemplate what those words mean in plain English. This exercise serves two purposes, by both focusing your mind on the definition and simulating exactly how much the D.C. Circuit thinks you should know about the political process. How did they come to their decision, you might ask? By twisting, turning, and bending the words of the English language in a way that’s still illegal in nine states.
I mean, what more can you say about an opinion that calls dictionaries an “optical illusion?” Seriously…
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