Money and Democracy

Published — October 7, 2013 Updated — August 26, 2014 at 12:05 pm ET

Supreme Court ‘McCutcheon’ case could aid GOP

Republican lawyers urging court to axe aggregate contribution limits


Conservatives who made political donations at the legal maximum during the 2012 election far outnumbered liberals, suggesting that if the U.S. Supreme Court eliminates the so-called “aggregate” limit on contributions it will result in more money going to Republican candidates.

The high court will on Tuesday hear oral arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. At issue is whether total donations to multiple candidates and parties should continue to be capped.

About 600 individuals hit the then-$46,200 ceiling for campaign donations to federal candidates during the 2012 election cycle, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics at the request of the Center for Public Integrity.

About 45 percent gave overwhelmingly to Republican politicians, while about 37 percent gave with the same fervor to Democrats. The rest gave to a mix of candidates in both parties.

These “maxed out” donors — who together could fit on just a dozen Greyhound buses — combined to give about $34 million to 975 candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That was about 1 percent of all money all candidates raised during the two-year election cycle — a percentage that could increase if the Supreme Court axes the aggregate limits.

At the same time, about 1,700 people hit a separate contribution limit on donations to national party committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which was $70,800 during the 2012 election.

Again, the GOP made out better than Democrats.

About 61 percent gave at least 90 percent of their contributions to Republican groups, while about 37 percent gave at least 90 percent of their money to Democratic organizations.

Only about 2 percent donated some money to a combination of national committees representing each party.

The challenge to the aggregate political contribution limits was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a businessman and Republican activist from Alabama.

The aggregate contribution limit to candidates — $48,600 for the 2013-2014 election cycle — should not be confused with the “base” limit, which is currently $2,600 per candidate, per election, with a primary and general election counting as separate contests.

There is also a combined limit for giving to parties and political action committees, currently set at $74,600, making the combined overall limit for the current election cycle $123,200.

Limits are indexed to inflation and go up each cycle.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark campaign finance ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010 did not address donations to candidates.

For his part, McCutcheon donated about $35,000 during the 2012 election cycle split among 15 federal candidates, including contributions to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Ohio Republican and U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel and Indiana Republican and U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock.

McCutcheon also contributed about $30,000 to Republican Party committees, including $20,000 to the Alabama Republican Party. He furthermore gave more than $300,000 to two super PAC operations with which he was personally involved.

Who else may join McCutcheon’s ranks in taking advantage of new rules should the high court opt to further loosen the nation’s campaign finance laws?

A Huffington Post report in May identified more than 40 donors who appeared to exceed the aggregate contribution limits during the 2012 election cycle, including hedge fund executive John Canning and Illinois businessman Richard Uihlein, a major donor to conservative causes such as the super PAC of the anti-tax Club for Growth.

Meanwhile, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — who became a household name during the 2012 election for his deep-pocketed support of GOP super PACs — contributed the legal maximum to the parties and PACs during the 2012 election cycle, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Additionally, Adelson gave a combined $44,500 — just shy of the then-$46,200 aggregate limit — to 16 Republican candidates including Mitt Romney, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

On the other side of the aisle, media mogul Fred Eychaner is the prime example of a Democratic donor who gave the legal maximum to both candidates and parties during the 2012 election cycle.

Eychaner actually doled out $1,000 more than the legal limit — $47,200 — to 14 Democratic politicians, including President Barack Obama.

After questions from the Center for Public Integrity, Eychaner, who was also the top Democratic donor to super PACs in 2012, pledged to seek a $1,000 refund to comply with the aggregate limit.

Through spokesmen, both Eychaner and Adelson declined to comment for this story.

Ben Wieder contributed to this report.

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