The High Court will hear the challenge to federal contribution limits later this year.
The outcome of the pending Supreme Court case McCutcheon v. FEC could help federal party committees raise thousands more in contributions, but it's unlikely the court will lift individual contribution limits for candidates, experts say. Many consultants are growing increasingly frustrated with the campaign finance environment borne from Citizens United. And with Congress unable to move any legislation related to campaign finance, the Supreme Court appears likely to make the next change in the law. The court this week declined to hear Danielczyk v. United States, which was billed as an uber-Citizens United because it had the potential to lift the ban on contributions to candidates from corporations, which has been in place since 1907. But the McCutcheon case, which will be heard in the court's October term, could also shift the fundraising landscape, albeit not as dramatically. It could make donor management easier, Lisa Wagner, an Illinois-based Republican fundraiser, tells C&E. "It will give me opportunities to help everybody as opposed to advising donors on how to divide up the money," she says. Under the 2011-12 limits, which Alabama resident Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee are challenging, an individual could contribute a maximum of $46,200 to all federal candidates ($2,500 per candidate) and $70,800 to the national party committees every two years. However, the maximum contribution to an individual committee was capped at $30,800 a year. As there are three national committees in each party, a donor must decide which two get the maximum and which one gets the leftovers. If the justices' ruling lifts that limit, says Wagner, "it opens up the possibility to support all the committees so donors don't have to pick a favorite." More money going to the committees won't necessarily help candidates, who have seen their influence in a campaign wane as super PACs outmuscle them financially. "What's the money going to be used for?" asks Kenneth Christensen, a Democratic fundraiser. "I don't really know how it's going to affect my candidates." There is the possibility the court could rule on the constitutionality of individual contribution limits to candidates, but experts say that's unlikely. “The court has applied a generally loose standard of review and almost always has upheld contribution limits, contrasted with spending limits,” Rick Hasen, a campaign finance expert with the University of California, Irvine, told PBS. “But if the court changes the standard of review to a stricter review for contribution limits, it could have a ripple effect and ultimately threaten the constitutionality of other limits, like the $2,600 individual limit” for candidate contributions.