The Supreme Court's conservative-liberal split was evident during arguments on the challenge to individuals' aggregate campaign finance limits, but a search for middle ground seemed possible.
A sharply-divided US Supreme Court engaged in a pointed debate on Tuesday over whether limiting the total amount of money an individual can give to federal candidates and political committees violates the free-speech rights of would-be campaign contributors.
By the conclusion of the hour-long argument it appeared the aggregate campaign finance limits under challenge would be struck down. But it also seemed likely that in accomplishing that result the majority justices would wield a scalpel rather than a meat ax.
At issue in the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (12-536), is a provision of federal campaign finance law that restricts the total amount of money an individual can give during a two-year election cycle.
Those challenging the law complain that contributors are already subject to base contribution limits of $2,600 per candidate and up to $32,400 for political committees.
Those base limits were set by Congress to protect against the threat of excessively large and potentially corrupting contributions from one individual to a candidate or party.
The question in the case is whether given those base limits, the second-tier of regulations – the so-called aggregate limit set at $123,200 – is necessary and constitutionally justified.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, who in 2012 gave contributions to 15 federal candidates and various committees. He wanted to give to 12 additional candidates and three national political committees, but those extra contributions would have put him over the aggregate limit even though each individual contribution would have complied with the base contribution limits.
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