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Elena Kagan, the youngest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, wasted no time yesterday jumping into the fray during argument in the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, according to this Reuters report.

At issue in McCutcheon is the viability of FEC aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and political committees.

Just minutes after the argument began, Kagan fired off a number of worst-case scenarios that might result if the court threw out those limits:

Kagan raised the specter of an individual donor who stays within the base $5,000 limit for a Political Action Committee (PAC) but then – presuming the aggregate limits are lifted – contributes to 100 PACs. She theorized that money could be transferred to U.S. Senate candidates who would know of the original contributions and feel beholden to the contributors.

Under another scenario, she said, an individual could stay within base limits on contributions to candidates, parties and committees but – if facing no overall cap – give a total $3.5 million. “Having written a check for 3.5-or-so million dollars … are you suggesting that that party and the members of that party are not going to owe me anything, that I won’t get any special treatment?”

Those scenarios, mocked by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, caught the attention of others, though — including Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts — prompting some to speculate that a decision along party lines might not be forthcoming.

At another point, Kagan took a shot at her conservative colleagues’ decision in Citizens United:

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the Citizens United decision, challenged Verrilli about the underpinning of the court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling that gave government more leeway to put limits on contributions compared to expenditures.

Verrilli said Congress could always write a new law, if it chose, changing the contribution limits.

That prompted Kagan to interject, “And General, I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.” That would mean reversing Citizens United. Said Verrilli, “Far be it from me to suggest that you don’t, your honor.”

 

 

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The U. S. Supreme Court will open its new term in October with another blockbuster case involving campaign financing.

McCutcheon v. FEC (called “Citizens United II” by some), scheduled for argument on Oct.8, involves a challenge to limits on individual donor contributions.  In 2012, the overall contribution limit for a single donor in the 2012 election cycle was $70,800 to all party committees and $46,200 to all federal candidates.

Conservative Alabama activist Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee want to have lots more money flowing into elections and have asked the Court to overrule years of precedent upholding such limits.

Here’s a little history on the regulation of contributions and a warning on just why this case — even more than Citizens United — is such a threat to democracy,courtesy of  this opinion piece in today’s Politico:

 In the wake of Watergate, Congress in 1974 enacted comprehensive new campaign finance laws that included limits on individual contributions to candidates and an overall limit on the total amount an individual could give to all federal candidates and parties.

The Supreme Court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo explicitly upheld the constitutionality of the overall contribution limit, as well as the individual contribution limits.

Since then, the Supreme Court has never struck down a federal contribution limit. Instead, the court has relied repeatedly on Buckley to hold that large contributions create opportunities for corruption and therefore can be subject to limits consistent with the First Amendment.

We’ll have more on this and other cases queued for argument in the new term in the coming weeks.

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NC Policy Watch follower Betsy Caudle Lowman of Boone recently sent us the following essay — we hope you will enjoy it.

U.S. declines into “de-MOCK-racy”
By Betsy Caudle Lowman

Each year The Economist, a conservative British news magazine, rates the nations of the world on the degree to which they operate according to democratic principles. This year, Norway replaced Sweden at the top of the heap. The United States is not included in the highest category, which includes Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, and Britain. Should this surprise anyone?  Americans love to believe they have government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but this has never been less true than at present.  Read More

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Art Pope 3This is from this morning’s Washington Post:

“The third Koch ‘brother’ hits North Carolina

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There’s something rotten in the state of North Carolina — and it smells like money. Specifically, Art Pope’s money.

In fact, Pope and his cash are responsible for North Carolina’s recent meteoric rise as the poster child for regressive, conservative politics.

As the head of Variety Wholesalers (a family-run discount store holding company) and the $150 million Pope Family Foundation, he has invested in an array of think tanks and advocacy groups dedicated to aggressively aligning the state’s political terrain with his business interests. Gov. Pat McCrory, whose campaign he bankrolled, recently named Pope to the powerful post of state budget director.

Pope is, for all intents and purposes, North Carolina’s third, lesser known, Koch brother. In fact, he’s attended the Koch Brothers’ planning summits and considers himself their close ally. Read More

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You may recall a short while back, after the tragedy in Newtown, how the California State Teachers Retirement System learned that its $500 million investment commitment to private equity group Cerberus Capital Management was headed to a company with a controlling interest in North Carolina-based Freedom Group, maker of the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Needless to say, the group of current and retired teachers were none too happy to learn that their hard-earned dollars were funding assault weapons and quickly announced that they were reviewing that commitment. The group’s response to its very public discovery, coinciding with national outrage over the shootings and renewed calls for gun control legislation, caused Cerberus to announce just days later that it was selling its interest in Freedom Group.

Now comes another pension group, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, that is likewise seeking to exercise its shareholders rights to dictate the behavior of companies in which it invests — this time taking aim at the corporate political spending unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Read More