Many observers are having a full-blown
conniption about the latest U.S. Supreme
Court ruling regarding political donations.
If Citizens United wasn’t bad
enough, they say, then McCutcheon is worse — it allows
big spenders to spend big on all the political
races they want.
They’re wrong. The McCutcheon decision is a relatively
minor ruling (affecting very few people) but
it’s the right ruling. Free speech is good, and any ruling
that makes speech more free is good, too.
“In reality, the decision is a principled interpretation
of the First Amendment that would have garnered
wide support from many on the left just 30
years ago,” the Cato Institute’s Trevor Burrus said.
Put simply, the McCutcheon decision knocks out
some limits that campaign finance law put on donors
— because they’re limited in how much they can
spend (total), and how much they can spend on any
one candidate, a practical limit was placed on
donors. Burrus explains the issue here with a helpful
“Imagine a park where people went to hand out
political pamphlets,” he wrote for the Daily Caller.
“Due to the amount of paper, littering becomes a
problem, and in order to combat littering the government
outlaws all political pamphleteering in the
park. Such a law would be struck down as unconstitutional
because it addressed a narrow and compelling
problem, littering, with a legal sledgehammer
that prohibits legitimate and important political
speech. The First Amendment requires a scalpel, not
a sledgehammer. This goes double for political
Of course, many are warning that now elections
will be “bought.” They said the same thing about the
Citizens United decision, which allowed groups of
people (clubs and unions and corporations) to participate
in our democracy through campaign contributions.
But those dire predictions won’t come true, just
as they haven’t come true following Citizens United.
The simple fact is that money doesn’t buy elections.
This was demonstrated in the Republican primaries
in 2012, when Gov. Rick Perry’s vast campaign war
chest couldn’t lift his chances, and it was shown
even more starkly in the 2012 general election.
“The most expensive election in American history
drew to a close this week with a price tag estimated
at more than $6 billion, propelled by legal and regulatory
decisions that allowed wealthy donors to pour
record amounts of cash into races around the country,”
the New York Times reported. “But while outside
spending affected the election in innumerable
ways — reshaping the Republican presidential nominating
contest, clogging the airwaves with unprecedented
amounts of negative advertising and shoring
up embattled Republican incumbents in the House
— the prizes most sought by the emerging class of
megadonors remained outside their grasp.”
The same thing was seen in Colorado last year,
when gun control advocates outspent pro-recall
forces 7-to-1, but were soundly defeated.
Our default position always must be that political
discourse should be free and unhindered by government.
That’s what the First Amendment — and the
McCutcheon decision — are all about. Free speech
is not in danger. Voters are more astute than that.