In the first five months of this election cycle, the top donor to presidential candidates and party committees has exceeded the amount given during the last election cycle by all the top donors combined.
Warren Stephens, of the Arkansas investment firm Stephens, Inc., has already made more than $800,000 GOP donations as of the end of May, according to the Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal.
How is it possible for one man to do so much in the face of McCain-Feingold? The omnibus spending bill that passed at the end of last year contained a nifty little provision that allowed each party to create three separate election funds that could accept almost $100,000 from any given donor. This almost tripled the previous individual donor limit.
Additionally, the 2014 ruling on McCutcheon vs. FEC rearranged the way funding was aggregated. According to the ruling summary, the action “struck down the aggregate limits on the amount an individual may contribute during a two-year period to all federal candidates, parties and political action committees combined.”
As Blumenthal noted, “Stephens is not alone among donors in pouring money into these new accounts. Singer, the top limited contribution donor in 2014, has also surpassed his past total, with $657,700 donated this year. Another hedge fund honcho, Citadel’s Ken Griffin, is nearly there, with $560,400 donated this year. Both Singer and Griffin are Republicans.”
In essence, these two actions took campaign funding limits apart. Robert Barnes, writing in the Washington Post on the legal basis of McCutcheon, described it as “the latest milestone for conservative justices who are disassembling a campaign finance regime they feel violates free-speech rights.”
This movement is part of the same intellectual trend that led past Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to respond to an Iowa protester by saying, “Corporations are people, my friend.”
It is a compelling debate, what exactly constitutes the “speech” in the First Amendment sense. Common sense tends to rebel against the idea that something levels removed from the ability to shout out on a street corner or two steps away from writing an op-ed in a newspaper could be the same as the right to say what you mean as a person and retain your liberty afterward. It also rebels against what almost seem like special rights for the wealthy, rights which enable them to amplify that part of speech they claim to a deafening level.
It may be helpful to remember that the same court that signed off on McCutcheon also did so on marriage equality. If all parties walking away unsatisfied is the hallmark of a successful compromise, maybe the Supreme Court is doing its job.
Photo via Brook Owens/Flickr