Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 2, 2014


Host: Ted Simons

Campaign Contribution Ruling


  • The U.S. Supreme Court lifted limits on the total amount of money people can give during one election cycle to political candidates. The court left intact the $5,200 limit that can be given to a particular candidate during a two-year election cycle. Dan Barr, a partner in the law firm Perkins Coie, will discuss the ruling.
Guests:
  • Dan Barr - Attorney, Perkins Coie
Category: Politics   |   Keywords: campaign, ruling, supreme court, money, politics,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a major ruling on money in politics. The high court removed limits on the total amount of money an individual donor can give to an overall number of campaigns in an election cycle. The court did not change dollar limits to particular candidates. Here to explain is Dan Barr, a partner in the law firm of Perkins Coie. It's good to see you again. We needed you here to make sense of this.

Dan Barr: I don't know if I can do that, but I’ll help.

Ted Simons: You will, I know you will. Supreme Court, what did the court rule today?

Dan Barr: What the court did today is strike down the aggregate campaign limits. There are two types of campaign contribution limits. There's the individual limits, and individual limits you can give up to $2,600 per candidate per election. And then there's an aggregate limit, and the aggregate limit you could give up to $48,600 for all federal candidates in any particular election.

Ted Simons: So that base limit, I'm still limited in terms of giving to an individual campaign committee or candidate.

Dan Barr: Correct. But the difference is before today, you could only give the maximum amount to nine federal candidates. If you wanted to give to more than nine federal candidates, you couldn't give the maximum amount, at least any amount over nine. So the difference now is that the maximum amount that you could give before today to -- As many candidates as you wanted was $123,000. Now you can give the maximum amount to all the people running for the house and all the people running for the senate, and that's $3.5 million.

Ted Simons: Basically if my last name happens to be Koch, for example, and I have all this money, I can now spread this money out to as many -- Obviously each one is limited, but the overall number is--

Dan Barr: You can give to as many federal candidates as you want, and as a result you can give it 28 times as much money after today's ruling than could you before.

Ted Simons: Chief justice Roberts wrote that this -- The old limits were restricting first amendment rights. What did he mean by that?

Dan Barr: He said have you a first amendment right to give to as many candidates as you want to give. He said restricting the amount of people that you can give money to is like restricting a newspaper for how many people they can endorse for political office. And he says the first amendment gives you the right to donate money to however many people you want. If you want to donate to 12 federal candidates and you want to give them maximum amount you should be able to do that it.

Ted Simons: Sounds like they're also saying we are concerned about corruption and the appearance of corruption, that's why those base levels remain.

Dan Barr: Yes. But how you define corruption is another issue. Justice Roberts defines corruption as quid pro quo. This for that. This traditional, I'll give you $2,000 and you'll give me something back in return. You'll go light on regulating my company, or doing whatever. That's quid pro quo corruption. What Justice Briar who wrote the dissent said no, we're concerned with more of the appearance of corruption and the problem that money gives you preferred access. If you're able to give to everybody who's running for Congress, your phone call is going to get returned quicker than somebody who gives like $100 to some candidate. And what Justice Briar is concerned about, and the cases before today, the rights of the people who can't give that much money who get drowned out in the political process by people who have a lot of money and can control the message.

Ted Simons: Indeed, so basically what it seems like -- Correct me if I'm wrong -- The court is equating spending money with free speech. A. B, what about those who don't have the money?

Dan Barr: Well, as with a lot of things, how you ask the question determines the answer. And the way Chief Justice Roberts asked the question is, looking at the first amendment rights of individuals to give as much -- To give as many candidates as they can, and he's looking at the individual first amendment right. Justice Breyer is looking at the rights, the collective rights of people who don't have access to a lot of money and don't have access to political system, not to have their message drowned out by people who do have a lot of money. So Justice Breyer is looking at the first amendment rights of individuals, Chief Justice Roberts is looking at the rights of individuals, and Justice Breyer and the four dissenters are looking at the collective rights of people who don't have money and don't have access to the political system.

Ted Simons: So when critics say the wealthy now will just have that much more influence on elections, do they have a point?

Dan Barr: Well, that's certainly one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it, it might not make that much difference. They're already giving a lot of money through independent expenditures, and maybe this way they'll be able to give money directly to these candidates instead of giving it to some i.e. that is going to gift money to the candidate anyway.

Ted Simons: I was going to bring that up, I saw it argued this could counter the influence of Super PACs and other ways of money -- Into the -- Gets into the system.

Dan Barr: One of the things that's been argued, it's a political matter, we'll see how it shakes out, is this decision gives say the Republican party more control over like the club for growth, and other independent expenditure groups and maybe even Tea Party groups and stuff because they'll be able to funnel more of the money to the party because you won't have this cap on contributions. But we'll see. We'll see how it plays out. That was one of the arguments, is that the Republican Party and the parties in general would have more control now over the independent expenditure groups.

Ted Simons: So can we say one headline from all this is that free speech trumps political corruption?

Dan Barr: Well, we'll see. How you define it, if you define political corruption as Charlie Keating, for instance, having access to all these people because he's donating a lot of money to them, even though it's not quid quo pro corruption, you should be concerned about this opinion. If you're not concerned about that and you think that someone like Charlie Keating should be -- Have the right to give as much to give to as many candidates as possible it's perfectly OK.

Ted Simons: Last question -- Were you surprised at all by the decision?

Dan Barr: No. Since Justice Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, all five conservative justices have voted to strike down every campaign contribution, every campaign expenditure limit that's come before the court.

Ted Simons: I lied. This is my last question -- Citizens United, obviously a landmark decision. Does this come close to Citizens United?

Dan Barr: I don't think so, but it picks up from Citizens United. The strain that money is speech and it picks up the strain of knocking down McCain, fine gold and other finance restrictions. I think there's little doubt that with the current makeup of the court, that the individual contribution limitations will soon fall as well.

Ted Simons: Wow. All right. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Dan Barr: Thanks for having me.


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