McCutcheon v. FEC: Opinion of the United States Supreme Court

April 2, 2014   •  By Joe Trotter
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No. 12–536. Argued October 8, 2013—Decided April 2, 2014

The right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute. Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 26–27. It may not, however, regulate contribu­tions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative in­fluence of others. See, e.g., Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, 564 U. S. ___, ___. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), imposes two types of limits on campaign contributions. Base limits restrict how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee while aggregate limits restrict how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees. 2 U. S. C. §441a. In the 2011–2012 election cycle, appellant McCutcheon contributed to 16 different federal candidates, complying with the base limits ap­plicable to each. He alleges that the aggregate limits prevented him from contributing to 12 additional candidates and to a number of non candidate political committees. He also alleges that he wishes to make similar contributions in the future, all within the base limits. McCutcheon and appellant Republican National Committee filed a complaint before a three-judge District Court, asserting that the ag­gregate limits were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The District Court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction and granted the Government’s motion to dismiss. Assuming that the 2 MCCUTCHEON v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMM’N 4 base limits appropriately served the Government’s anticorruption in­terest, the District Court concluded that the aggregate limits sur­vived First Amendment scrutiny because they prevented evasion of the base limits.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 893 F. Supp. 2d 133, reversed and remanded. CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS, joined by JUSTICE SCALIA, JUSTICE KENNE-DY, and JUSTICE ALITO, concluded that the aggregate limits are inva­lid under the First Amendment. Pp. 7–40.

Joe Trotter