Politics & Policy

After a Supreme Court Victory, a New Challenge to Campaign-Finance Limits


The proverbial ink from Dan Backer’s Supreme Court victory was barely dry before he filed his next challenge to campaign-finance laws. The lawyer won a landmark ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission on April 2, when the high court knocked down the overall limit on how much any donor can give to federal campaigns each election cycle. Now, just two weeks later, Backer has filed a lawsuit looking to strike down some of the restrictions still on the books.

In the split decision on McCutcheon, the Supreme Court left intact the cap on donations to any given candidate or committee. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the dissenting judges, all but provided a playbook for how donors could set up multiple political action committees to still channel millions of dollars to their preferred candidates. Breyer’s examples are almost byzantine—one requires the establishment of 200 different campaign entities—because there were still limits on donations to each.

Backer’s new lawsuit, Stop Reckless Economic Instability Caused by Democrats (Stop Reid) v. FEC, filed on April 14, seeks to open the door for more money to flow from a PAC to a candidate or party committee. The suit objects to federal restrictions on transfers out of PACs based on the amount of time they have been registered. Backer’s brief calls the limits arbitrary and unconstitutional, saying they “allow entrenched institutions and interests to engage in protected First Amendment activities to a greater extent than newly formed grassroots organizations that have spontaneously mobilized in response to emergent political issues and developments.”

In the McCutcheon ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts said campaign-finance limits that hamper free speech should serve only to prevent a narrow view of corruption, namely direct, quid pro quo types of arrangements. “Then cash, checks, and wire transfers cease to be simply political expression and morph into bribery,” as my colleague Paul Barrett explained. The new case has a narrower focus than the sweeping McCutcheon suit, but it’s asking the court to make a similar leap—that the limits on donations to PACs don’t serve any important government interest.

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Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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