Supreme Court Strikes Down Individual Campaign Contribution Limits

Decision likely to unleash more political ad dollars in midterm election

In a move that is sure to increase spending in the upcoming midterm election, the Supreme Court Wednesday struck down campaign contribution limits that capped individual contributions at $123,000.

The court voted 5-4 to allow individuals to give as much money as they want to as many parties, candidates or groups. It did not, however, lift the $5,200 limit an individual can spend per election on a single candidate for president or Congress.

Though not as sweeping as the landmark Citizens United decision four years ago that removed restrictions on what corporations and labor unions can spend, today's decision will allow more wealthy individuals to influence the political process with their checkbooks.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the minority decision, said the current law violates the First Amendment.

"The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combating corruption and its appearance," Roberts wrote. "We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption, quid pro quo corruption, in order to ensure that the government's efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them," Roberts wrote.

Lawmakers, particularly Democrats that didn’t like the Citizens United outcome, have begun to weigh in with outrage.

“This morning’s ruling is just the latest attack in the Supreme Court’s unfortunate and misguided war on democracy—a series of rulings with the combined effect of creating a country in which money talks and voters are left voiceless,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) “Nothing in the First Amendment tells us that Congress is powerless to impose any restriction on the amount that special interests can funnel to PACs, political parties, and candidates for office. The court’s ruling today is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of our Constitution.”

Senate judiciary chairman Patrick Leah (D-Vt.) said he was "shocked" by the decision and quoted Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent: "Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, today's decision eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve." 

Blumenthal said he would work with his colleagues in Congress to amend the Constitution, “so that this opinion and others like it are wiped off the books.”