U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed a decision Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court that strikes down aggregate limits on how much donors can give to political parties and committees in a two-year election cycle.
The court kept in place limits on what a donor can give to individual candidates and committees, but the ruling in McCutcheon v. the Federal Election Commission will let someone give to an unlimited number of candidates and committees.
"The Supreme Court has once again reminded Congress that Americans have a constitutional First Amendment right to speak and associate with political candidates and parties of their choice," McConnell said in a statement.
When the case was argued last fall, McConnell was granted the unusual privilege of having his attorney, Bobby Burchfield, make an argument to the court on behalf of the plaintiff, Alabama Republican donor Shaun McCutcheon.
McConnell, already enjoying a significant fundraising advantage over his Republican and Democratic opponents in his bid to win a sixth term this year, could benefit from the court's decision. The ruling is expected to help eliminate competition among candidates of the same party for maximum contributions from donors.
U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Louisville, who has introduced proposals to change the nation's campaign-finance system, derided the ruling as a priceless gift to "those who have everything."
"With this decision, the court's Republican-appointed majority continues to ignore the reality that money in politics is corrupting public policy, offering greater access to the well-off and well-connected, and further diminishing the voices of the vast majority of Americans," Yarmuth said in a statement.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion joining with the majority. He predicted that the ruling makes the end of limits on contributions inevitable.
Long a foe of limits on campaign contributions, McConnell holds the view that political giving equates to personal speech and expression, a view the Supreme Court sided with in a 5-4 decision.
"Sen. McConnell believes that all restrictions of this nature should be reviewed under strict scrutiny," Burchfield said in his oral argument last October. "To begin with, this is a severe restriction on political speech."
The campaign of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell's likely opponent in the fall, issued a statement criticizing McConnell's stance on campaign finance issues, accusing him of being "so desperate to save his own job that he's focused on lining his campaign coffers with millions of dollars in Washington special interest money."
Spokeswoman Charly Norton said Grimes disagrees with the court's ruling and was "encouraged the Supreme Court has not accepted Mitch McConnell's radical wish for removal of all contribution limits, which would put politics up for sale even more."
In a rebuttal to Norton, McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said, "It's pretty revealing that a candidate who collects checks from Woody Allen and every Obama activist in Hollywood would suggest that political campaigns are 'for sale' to contributors."
McConnell emphasized in his statement that the court did not strike down individual candidate limits.
"Let me be clear for all those who would criticize the decision: It does not permit one more dime to be given to an individual candidate or a party — it just respects the constitutional rights of individuals to decide how many to support," McConnell said.
Instead, he said, the court recognized "that it is the right of the individual, and not the prerogative of Congress, to determine how many candidates and parties to support."
In the 2012 election cycle, donors were limited to giving $123,000, with $48,600 going to candidates and $74,600 to committees and parties.
Campaign finance watchdogs argued that Wednesday's ruling could open the floodgates, upping the limit from $123,000 to potentially $3.5 million.
A donor who could give the maximum amount to each of the campaign committees, such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee or the Democratic National Committee, and only a limited number of candidates before reaching the aggregate limit can now give the maximum amount to each of the committees and to an unlimited number of candidates.
Democrats and watchdog groups have long argued that campaign contribution limits and disclosure are vital to ensure that money does not equal influence over politicians or give disproportionate power to the wealthy.
After the decision, a number of groups, including the Public Campaign Action Fund and the NAACP, condemned the ruling.
David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, which ran ads on the issue in Kentucky in October, said the court stopped short of giving McConnell everything he wanted by not striking down individual contributions to candidates.
"Sen. McConnell asked the Supreme Court to hand our elections completely over to those who can write million-dollar contributions to politicians like him, but the justices rightfully disagreed," Donnelly said. "While today's decision is by no means a victory for everyday people, Kentuckians should be concerned that Sen. McConnell continues to push the envelope in the courts to allow for unlimited campaign contributions. That's not just bad policy; it's extreme and unpopular."
The McCutcheon ruling comes four years after the Supreme Court decided in the Citizens United case that outside groups should not be restricted in how much they raise or spend except in giving directly to candidates.
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.