Politics & Government

Supreme Court ruling in campaign finance case could affect Kentucky Senate race

Republican activist Shaun McCutcheon of Hoover, Ala., left, leaves the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, after the court's hearing on campaign finance. The Supreme Court is tackling a challenge to limits on contributions by the biggest individual donors to political campaigns. McCutcheon, the national Republican Party and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. want the court to overturn the overall limits on what contributors may give in a two-year federal election cycle.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Republican activist Shaun McCutcheon of Hoover, Ala., left, leaves the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, after the court's hearing on campaign finance. The Supreme Court is tackling a challenge to limits on contributions by the biggest individual donors to political campaigns. McCutcheon, the national Republican Party and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. want the court to overturn the overall limits on what contributors may give in a two-year federal election cycle. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — If the Supreme Court decides with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on a campaign finance case that was argued Tuesday, Kentuckians could be overwhelmed next year as donor floodgates are opened.

McConnell, a longtime warrior against campaign finance reform, was allowed by the court, in a rare move, to include his lawyer's efforts in McCutcheon vs. FEC, which could invalidate previous campaign finance laws and allow unlimited donations to parties and campaign committees.

The case, brought by an Alabama Republican donor, could result in individuals contributing as much as $3.5 million when they donate to candidates, parties and fundraising committees.

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.

If the court sides with McCutcheon and McConnell, a tsunami of campaign contributions could overwhelm Kentuckians during the senator's reelection campaign next year.

"Sen. McConnell believes that all restrictions of this nature should be reviewed under strict scrutiny," Bobby Burchfield, McConnell's lawyer, said in his oral argument. "To begin with, this is a severe restriction on political speech."

Paul Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, was in the court Tuesday when Burchfield, of Washington, D.C., made his argument and noted that questioning from Justice Antonin Scalia indicated there is support on the bench for the senator's position.

Ryan said that because the case is one of the first the court is hearing this term, the decision will likely come down in time to affect the 2014 Senate race. Ryan said that the decision could come as early as December and by June at the latest.

Campaign finance watchdogs and analysts warned that the effects of the court invalidating previous aggregate limits on spending would be significant, ensuring that wealthy donors have more influence on candidates and lawmakers than other Americans.

"If the court invalidates this limit, I think we're going to see an increase in the amount of power already wielded by a wealthy minority," Ryan said.

Don Thomas Dugi, head of the political science program at Transylvania University, warned that the possibility of the court invalidating the current limits is "really troubling."

"The plutocratic aspects of this are really scary," Dugi said.

Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth took to the U.S. House floor Tuesday to rail against the possibility of more money in campaigns, saying that "the last thing Congress needs is more special-interest candidates who don't answer to the American people."

"And yet this morning, the Senate minority leader and his big-money allies in the Republican Party once again asked the Supreme Court to give billionaires more influence on public policy through our elections," Yarmuth said.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr told the Lexington Herald-Leader that Kentuckians don't care about arcane campaign finance laws when they are far more concerned with the economy.

"I'm sure there are some constitutional law professors that do care about that, but the overwhelming amount of people are worried about putting food on their table," Barr said.

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