Why are senators from Kentucky and Utah meeting with a Republican Alabama businessman? Why did that Republican businessman get visits from presidential candidates last year? The answer is money, and Shaun McCutcheon wants to give more of it to politicians.
Some background: McCutcheon is the lead plaintiff in McCutcheon v. FEC, a campaign finance case the Supreme Court will hear next week, and he wants the Court to strike down federal laws limiting the total amount individuals can give in federal elections. These aggregate limits currently stand at $123,200 for every two-year election cycle. Last year, only a few hundred people in the entire country gave enough to hit these donation caps – less than a thousandth of a percent of the American population. If McCutcheon wins his case, those who can afford it would be able to spread more than $3.5 million across federal candidates and parties.
McCutcheon lives in Alabama, where he runs an engineering firm that specializes in coal mining systems. He has rapidly risen in the ranks of GOP donors in the past two years, giving more than $416,000 in federal political donations to candidates all over the country since his first in 2010. But it’s not enough — he feels too constrained by spending limits.
The seeds for his lawsuit were sown at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012 when McCutcheon described his annoyance about the aggregate cap to election lawyer Dan Backer and reportedly wondered if he could just ignore the limits. Instead, McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee sued to overturn the limits.
In a New York Times interview today, McCutcheon said he doesn’t understand how the aggregate limits protect against big-money donors’ ability to gain undue influence over elected officials. But the answer is clear: Through loopholes like joint fundraising committees, a single prominent candidate can accept millions of dollars from wealthy donors. The money is officially shunted to hundreds of committees, which gives the fundraising candidate valuable political capital, or the money could simply be sent back to that candidate.
The inordinate sway big donors wield is also evident from their appointment books. Since he started making big donations and asking the courts to let him make more, McCutcheon has had the ear of many politicians. “I met all the presidential candidates that came to Alabama, one-on-one meetings, including Mitt Romney,” he said. And he’s met 15 senators on visits to Washington, including “extended discussions” with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
How many of these senators’ average constituents have had “extended discussions” with them? How can McCutcheon really believe the current rules don’t let him give enough money to politicians?
Just 0.4 percent of Americans donated more than $200 to federal candidates in 2012. These wealthy few, like McCutcheon, already have undue influence over our elected officials. Striking down aggregate limits would create an even smaller class of political kingmakers. And it would drown out the voices of average citizens — the ones politicians are supposed to listen to, but clearly aren’t.