AARP’s brief before the U.S. Supreme Court urges the Court to uphold aggregate spending limits in federal election campaign law.
A campaign contributor and a national political fundraising committee are challenging decades-old federal laws limiting aggregate campaign contributions (the total amounts an individual can give directly to a campaign or indirectly via election fundraising organizations) by arguing the specific limits are no longer necessary and are redundant given more recent legislation and Supreme Court rulings. Plaintiffs argue that because the law now specifically limits and allows public scrutiny of individual donations to individual funding vehicles, the process provides limits and transparencies and, therefore, no overall aggregate spending limits are required.
AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys filed AARP’s friend-of-the-court brief in the case, along with seven other organizations concerned with campaign finance issues. The brief points out the history that led to the laws – concerns about obscurity in campaign contributions and the backroom dealings they led to or appeared to lead to – and emphasizes that those dangers are far from past. In fact, recent debates have underscored the massive spending by political parties, individuals, and “soft money” that goes into federal campaigns, spending that only increases each year.
The brief details joint fundraising practices among organizations and individuals, and possible expansions of these efforts. It argues that the plaintiffs “turn a blind eye to the real-world consequences of eliminating the aggregate limits. [Plaintiffs] disregard the ways the limits . . . advance the governmental interest in preventing corruption and . . . deter circumvention of the base contribution limits.” Relaxing the current laws could lead to the regular donation of six and seven figure donations from individual donors, all outside of the public view.
The brief also parses the legislative history and debates leading up to enactment of overall spending limits, as well as the language of Supreme Court decisions upholding those limits. It argues that the same conditions present then are present today.
What’s at Stake
Striking down aggregate spending limits would shield donations from public scrutiny and would harm the process by allowing the appearance of corruption even where none existed. Ultimately, removing these limits could open the doors to big-money individuals and organizations “buying” an election by spreading their money across a variety of permitted vehicles, devastating the entire democratic process.
McCutcheon v. FEC is before the U.S. Supreme Court.