HOOVER, Alabama -- Today's was trumpeted by some as a wise move to protect free speech and others as a way for wealthy donors to strengthen political influence.Shaun McCutcheon of Hoover, Ala.
Reaction from national groups was mixed.
Josh Wheeler, director of in Charlottesville, Va., said the Supreme Court's decision makes good sense.
The stated purpose of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was to prevent quid pro quo corruption (people gaining a specific favor in exchange for a campaign donation) or the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, Wheeler said.
"All the Supreme Court said today was that it (the cap on total contributions to multiple candidates, PACs or political party committees) does not serve that interest very well, if at all," Wheeler said. "It's not going to prevent corruption to limit the number of contributions you're allowed to give to different candidates."
Restrictions on how much a person can give to an individual candidate (,600 per election), PAC (,000 per year), national political party committee ,400 per year) or state or local political party committee (,000 per year) remain in place.
The risk that a contributor is going to elicit a political favor from one candidate by contributing to another candidate is remote, Wheeler said.U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts address students at the University of Alabama Law School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Tuesday, March 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)
Justice John Roberts, in , wrote that "the government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse."
The aggregate campaign contribution caps instituted by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act "deny the individual all ability to exercise his expressive and associational rights by contributing to someone who will advocate for his policy preference," Roberts wrote. "A donor must limit the number of candidates he supports, and may have to choose which of several policy concerns he will advance - clear First Amendment harms that the dissent never acknowledges.
"No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to 'level the playing field' or to 'level electoral opportunities' or to 'equalize the financial resources of candidates,'" Roberts wrote. "The First Amendment prohibits such legislative attempts to 'fine-tune' the electoral process, no matter how well-intentioned ... The concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment."
The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech felt strongly enough about the issue to file a brief with the Supreme Court in support of McCutcheon.
"This is an issue obviously of great importance and one of the most controversial areas of First Amendment law," Wheeler said.
Caroline Fredrickson, president of the in Washington, D.C., disagrees with today's 5-4 ruling.
"The Roberts Court continues to show its penchant for tossing aside long-standing precedent in order to advance a conservative political agenda," Fredrickson said in a written statement. "Today's decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, by the Court's conservative majority invalidating aggregate caps on campaign contributions to all federal candidates, was also another example of the majority's disregard for bipartisan congressional action."
Just as the Roberts court's conservative bloc showed no hesitation in striking a major provision of the Voting Rights Act -- another bipartisan effort by Congress, today it showed little concern for a bipartisan law by Congress containing common sense campaign finance regulations, Fredrickson said.
"Today was unfortunately yet another victory for the likes of the Koch brothers to funnel more money into our elections, drowning out voices of everyday Americans in the process," she said.
The conservative justices' rhetoric about adhering to established precedent does not match their actions, Fredrickson said.
"There was nothing conservative or level-headed about today's ruling," she said. "It is a sharp departure from precedent that, like Citizens United v. FEC before it, will open our elections to even greater influences by the most powerful in our society. The 5-4 decision is also yet another reminder that the composition of our federal judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, matters a great deal."
Guy-Uriel Charles, a law professor at Duke University and founding director of the who frequently comments on constitutional law and campaign finance issues, said there are two ways of looking at today's ruling.
One is that a majority of the court continues to chip away at campaign finance reforms piece by piece and that the court might be open to more chipping if additional challenges come.
The court clearly is saying that Congress must justify its campaign finance rules in terms of preventing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of it, he said.
But secondly, there's still a big question as to what kind of impact this ruling will have, Charles said.
"You have to have a pool of people who can say, 'I've got hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on campaigns and contribute to all sorts of candidates, and I'm willing to spend it,'" he said. "It's such a small group of people who have those resources and who are willing to use those resources."
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