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McCutcheon v. FEC

McCutcheon v. FEC involves a First Amendment challenge to the constitutionality of campaign finance legislation that establishes aggregate contribution limits in federal elections.  Under federal law, an individual may make a total of $123,200 in contributions in each two-year election cycle ($48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to parties and non-party political committees).  The district court rejected Shaun McCutcheon’s challenge to the aggregate limits, and the Supreme Court noted probable jurisdiction.

On July 25, 2013, Constitutional Accountability Center filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of prominent constitutional law scholar Professor Lawrence Lessig, urging the Court to uphold the federal aggregate contribution limits.   Our brief presents to the Court path-breaking research – involving review of every Founding-era discussion of corruption in debates over the Constitution – on the Framers’ understanding of corruption.  This research, which has never before been presented to the Supreme Court, shows that the Framers understood corruption in institutional terms: their chief concern was preventing the nation’s new institutions of government from developing an “improper dependence” on outside forces.  Our brief demonstrates that, under the Framers’ understanding of corruption, the federal aggregate contribution limits challenged by McCutcheon are constitutional.  By preventing massive hard money contributions to candidates and their political parties, the aggregate limits aim to prevent the very sort of improper dependence on outside forces that the Framers wrote the Constitution to check.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in McCutcheon on October 8, 2013. While a majority of the Court seemed to agree that striking down the aggregate limits could lead to corruption in our political process in certain circumstances, the conservative majority nonetheless indicated that it might strike down at least a portion of contribution limits that have been upheld for decades, which would, as Solicitor General Verrilli pointed out, result in a “government run by and for the 500” or so individuals able and willing to contribute beyond the current aggregate limits. Read CAC’s full reaction to oral argument here