WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court further loosened the reins on political giving Wednesday, ruling that big campaign donors can dole out money to as many candidates and political committees as they want as long as they abide by limits on contributions to each individual campaign.
In a 5-4 vote won by conservative justices, the court struck down limits in federal law on the total amount of money a contributor can give to candidates, political parties and political action committees.
The decision wipes away the overall limit of $123,200 for 2013 and 2014. It will allow the wealthiest contributors to pour millions of dollars into candidate and party coffers, although those contributions will be subject to disclosure under federal law. Big donors, acting independently of candidates and parties, already can spend unlimited amounts on attacks ads and other campaign efforts that have played an increasingly important role in elections.
The justices left in place limits on individual contributions to each candidate for president or Congress, now $2,600 per election.
The court's conservative majority, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, continued its run of decisions back to 2007 rejecting campaign finance limits as violations of the First Amendment speech rights of contributors. The most notable among those rulings was the 2010 decision in Citizens United that lifted limits on independent spending by corporations and labor unions.
Roberts said the aggregate limits do not act to prevent corruption, the rationale the court has upheld as justifying contribution limits.
The overall limits "intrude without justification on a citizen's ability to exercise 'the most fundamental First Amendment activities,'" Roberts said, quoting from the court's seminal 1976 campaign finance ruling in Buckley v. Valeo.
Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the outcome of the case, but wrote separately to say that he would have gone further and wiped away all contribution limits.