McCutcheon v. FEC
Summary of the Case
Federal law limits the amount that any one contributor can donate to candidates, political parties, and political committees during an election cycle. Under the current base contribution limits, for example, an individual can give no more than $5,200 to any one federal candidate per election cycle. But that contributor cannot give $5,200 to each and every federal candidate. Instead, the contributor is subject to an aggregate contribution limit of $123,200 to all federal candidates, parties, and political committees per cycle.
Aggregate contribution limits are designed to prevent circumvention of the base contribution limits. In the absence of aggregate contribution limits, transfers of funds between committees would render the base contribution limits meaningless; a single candidate could easily end up with the entire amount of a very large contribution that was initially spread among many candidates and committees. Such large contributions would raise extraordinary corruption risks.
In 2012, an Alabama businessman named Shaun McCutcheon reached the aggregate candidate and party contribution limits, but still wanted to give money to a number of other candidates and the Republican National Committee (RNC). McCutcheon and the RNC challenged the aggregate limits as unconstitutional, claiming that they violate the First Amendment because they burden protected political speech and are not justified by a compelling government interest.
On September 28, 2012, the District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of the aggregate contribution limits. The court specifically cited the aggregate limits’ ability to prevent circumvention of the underlying base contribution limits as a reason for upholding the law. On October 9, 2012, the Plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and on February 19, 2013, the Court agreed to hear the case. Oral arguments will be heard October 8, 2013.
The Brennan Center’s Brief for Appellee
The Brennan Center for Justice filed an amicus curiae brief urging the Court to affirm the judgment of the lower court and uphold the aggregate contribution limits. The brief discusses the fundamental government interest in preventing domination of the political process by the few to the detriment of the many. From the nation’s inception, the Founders sought to ensure the integrity of the new system of representative government. Aggregate contribution limits are the continuation of the Founders’ dedication to defeating corruption. Striking down the aggregate limits would allow wealthy Americans to give over $3.5 million directly to politicians and parties each election cycle, inviting a torrent of funds that would undermine faith in government integrity. The undue access and influence to elected officials springing from these contributions would raise the specter of corruption at a time when faith in government is already distressingly low.
Related Court Documents
US Supreme Court Merit Briefs
- Republican National Committee Brief for Appellant
- Shaun McCutcheon Brief for Appellant
- Federal Election Commission Brief for the Appellee
US Supreme Court Reply Briefs
US Supreme Court Amicus Briefs
In Support of Appellants
- American Civil Rights Union Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Cato Institute Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Cause of Action Institute Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Center for Competitive Politics Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Committee for Justice Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Downsize DC Foundation et al. Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Institute for Justice Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Senator Mitch McConnell Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Tea Party Leadership Fund et al. Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the Media Institute Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
- Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty Amicus Brief in Support of Appellants
In Support of Appellee
- Americans for Campaign Reform Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
- Brennan Center for Justice Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
- The Campaign Legal Center et al. Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
- Democratic Members of Congress of the United States House of Representatives Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
- Demos et al. Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
- National Education Association et al. Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
- Professor Lawrence Lessig Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
- Representatives Chris Van Hollen and David Price Amicus Brief in Support of Appellee
Other US Supreme Court Documents