The Supreme Court today announced that it will hear a case that threatens to be the next stage in the Roberts Court's assault on our country's democratic foundations. Shaun McCutcheon, et al. v. Federal Election Commission is a lawsuit challenging federal caps on how much money an individual can contribute in the aggregate during a two-year campaign cycle. The "et al." in the title is the Republican National Committee.
To give you an idea of how extreme it is that the Court is hearing this case, consider this: The lower court ruling upholding the FEC's regulations was written by conservative DC Circuit judge Janice Rogers Brown, no friend to progressives.
Under current FEC rules, during each two-year period starting in an odd-numbered year, no individual may contribute more than an aggregate of $46,200 to candidates and their authorized committees or more than $70,800 to anyone else. Of that $70,800, no more than $46,200 may be contributions to political committees that are not national political party committees. As the Solicitor General noted in urging the Court not to hear the appeal, these caps serve to prevent people from circumventing the individual contribution limits. Without the aggregate caps, it would be too easy to funnel money among candidates and organizations in such a way as to let an individual exceed the base contribution limits. In fact, way back in 1976's Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court upheld the aggregate caps as "no more than a corollary of the basic individual contribution limitation" to candidates or political committees.
McCutcheon and the RNC argue that if the current aggregate caps are valid under Buckley, then the Court should overrule that decision.
Judge Brown ended her decision with the following paragraph:
Plaintiffs raise the troubling possibility that Citizens United undermined the entire contribution limits scheme, but whether that case will ultimately spur a new evaluation of Buckley is a question for the Supreme Court, not us.
Given its history, the Roberts Court may well answer that question in a way that does great harm to our democracy.