September 2, 2013

(Corrected) McConnell to defend money in politics to Supreme Court

Pictured: Shelly (roommate's turtle) 
(Note: An earlier version of this entry incorrectly asserted that Sen. Mitch McConnell had been granted permission not give his arguments before the Supreme Court. The mistake was due to this author's misunderstanding of the contextual meaning of the court term 'leave to participate.' The error is much regretted.)

Sen. Mitch McConnell is due to give oral testimony in a lawsuit appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on October 8, 2013 in a case challenging federal aggregate limits on an individual's campaign contributions.

On Friday, McConnell's motion "for leave to participate in oral argument as amicus curiae" (argument by someone who isn't a party) was granted by the Court. 

The action by the Court looks like this:

Supreme Court of the United States

No. 12-536.
Aug. 30, 2013.

*1 The motion of Senator Mitch McConnell for leave to participate in oral argument as amicus curiae and for divided argument is granted.
--- S.Ct. ----, 2013 WL 4606324 (U.S.)

McCutcheon vs. FEC., was originally filed by Indiana lawyer James Bopp, on behalf of a wealthy individual in Alabama. The suit seeks to do away with the aggregate limits individuals can contribute to candidates, parties and PACs during a two-year election cycle. 

Bobby Burchfield, McConnell's attorney, filed a brief on behalf of the Senator in May laying out arguments against limits on campaign contribution limits. A snippet from that brief:
"Not all persons have the name recognition of a George Clooney, a Bruce Springsteen, or a Donald Trump, from whom a public endorsement or appearance would possibly carry weight. Nor do all people have the free time, skills, or proximity to be effective campaign volunteers. Thus, for many if not most persons, a contribution of money is by far the most effective means of supporting a preferred candidate."
Who could argue? We can't all be George Clooney. Anyway, that brief concludes with this plea to the Court:
"For the reasons set forth above, and in the briefs of Appellants RNC and McCutcheon, amicus Senator McConnell urges the Court to revisit the bifurcated standard of review for contribution and expenditure limits, hold that strict scrutiny applies to both, and hold that all aggregate contribution limits in BCRA are invalid under the First Amendment."
What are aggregate spending limits? That's a great question that was answered succinctly in a Sunday story by Star Ledger Contributor Jeff Brindle:
"Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, an individual, within regular contribution limits, can in the aggregate contribute no more than $123,200 to federal candidates and committees during a two-year election cycle. Of that amount, individuals are limited to $74,600 to PACs and parties and $48,600 to all candidates."
Catesby W. Clay, 88, a descendant of a slave-owning Confederate Colonel, former president of Kentucky River Properties, LLC and former CEO of Kentucky Coal Corporation, is one McConnell supporter who has struggled with limiting his contributions within the regular FEC limits, forget the aggregate limitations. 

For the 2014 election, Clay's regular FEC contribution limit would be $2,500 for the primary and $2,500 for the general.  In 2009, Clay contributed $2,400 and followed it up with $4,800 on March 31, 2010. 

As that last contribution put him past the $5,000 legal limit for both elections, the McConnell campaign had no choice but to refund $2,500 back to Clay.
McConnell Campaign's FEC filing reflecting the refund to Clay.
Limits on aggregate contributions were first passed following President Richard Nixon's resignation, as reform aimed at reducing the kind of corruption Watergate exposed in Washington. At the time the aggregate limits were passed, McConnell worked for the Attorney General's office of President Gerald Ford, who pardoned Nixon. 

Here's one of the earliest examples of McConnell making the case that post-Watergate spending limit reform went too far:

McConnell has already broken spending records in smearing his primary opponent, Matt Bevin, for the privilege of facing the winner of the Democratic Party's primary, who is expected to be Kentucky Sec. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

McConnell's no doubt frustrated with limitations on contributions from his wealthiest donors, but is this the best time for him to draw attention to the issue?


  1. Republicans do not get that all this money in our elections is disastrous for DEMOCRACY. The politicians in Congress are supposed to represent ALL PEOPLE, not just the rich. Please help vote this man out of Congress!

  2. We need publicly financed campaigns, and we need them NOW.