How to use this toolkit
Click on any of the “Table of Contents” headings to be directed to that section.
In “Introduction,” we explain the basics of the McCutcheon campaign; in “Background on the Case,” we delve into the case specifics; in “Talking Points,” we suggest how to talk about the case; in “Protests and Actions,” we show where events are taking place and how you can plug in; in “October 7 Training and October 8 Lobby Day,” we discuss the lobbying efforts underway in Washington DC; in “Submitting a Letter To the Editor,” we review how to write and submit a relevant LTE; in “Social Media Tools,” we provide you with sample Tweets and Facebook memes you can share; in “The Solution,” we discuss policy initiatives that address the money in politics problem; and in “Additional Resources,” we point you to articles that continue the conversation about McCutcheon and reform.
Table of Contents
On October 8, 2013, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, a money in politics case with huge implications for our democracy. Like the landmark Citizens United case, the Supreme Court will once again be taking on the issue of campaign finance regulation, determining whether or not there should be even more money poured into our elections.
In the wake of the most expensive election cycle in American history, the threat to our democracy from decisions by a radical and ultra conservative Supreme Court continues. In this case, the Supreme Court could take the damage of Citizens United one step further by eliminating the caps on how much money an individual can contribute, in total, in each two-year campaign cycle. In other words, the court would be striking down yet another protection against wealthy special interests overpowering our political system.
But this is not what the framers of the Constitution envisioned for our democracy, nor is it what the American people want today. Earlier this year, affiliate People For the American Way Foundation joined with ally organizations in submitting an amicus brief in the case, and People For will continue to speak out in the months to come. But we need your help!
We are calling upon activists across the country to raise awareness on McCutcheon and rally for reform. We hope the following toolkit is a helpful resource for those efforts.
At issue in McCutcheon v. FEC are “aggregate contribution limits” – the overall limits on the total amount a person can give directly to candidates, PACs, and parties in each election cycle. Congress enacted these limits following the Watergate scandal to close campaign finance loopholes, prevent corruption, and preserve the legitimacy of our elected government in the eyes of the people. These reforms also provide a more equitable election landscape, which is critical to sustaining our democracy. The limits were challenged and upheld by the Supreme Court shortly after they were signed into law, so the question of their constitutionality was settled decades ago. However, despite the longstanding precedent upholding these commonsense regulations, the conservative activist Roberts Court has decided to hear McCutcheon v. FEC and potentially gut them.
Whereas the Citizens United case affected “outside spending” – that is, spending that is not coordinated with a candidate’s campaign or political party – the McCutcheon case regards contributions made directly to a candidate’s campaign or party (or any other entities that either associate with or make contributions to candidate campaigns). The laws that affect these direct contributions are critical, considering that “inside spending” accounted for roughly 83% of all spending in the 2012 federal election.
Among other purposes, aggregate limits prevent donors from funneling more money to candidates to whom they have already maxed out in direct contributions. Professor Justin Levitt provides a great example on SCOTUSBlog:
“Imagine Senator Joseph Paine’s former chief of staff starts a PAC called People-Like-Paine, donating to candidates who share the senator’s values. Paine’s neighbor likes the idea, and starts People-Like-Paine2. Paine’s former campaign manager starts People-Like-Paine3. One Hundred more crop up; even without an exchange of memos, it’s not hard to recognize a good idea. I give $10,000 to each of them. They each donate the max to Paine … and let him know about my generosity. He ends up with a large suitcase of cash with my name on it.”
In the 2013-2014 election cycle, the aggregate cap is roughly $123,000. But if Shaun McCutcheon, the wealthy donor who filed the case in conjunction with the Republican National Committee, is successful, he and other high-pocketed donors will be able to max out to every one of a party’s candidates and fundraising committees to the tune of more than $3.6 million (or $7.25 million if a donor wanted to hedge his/her bets by giving to both parties).
If the door were opened to individual donors giving multimillion dollar direct contributions, our flawed campaign finance system will only get worse.
Here are some tips on how you can discuss McCutcheon:
- What we need is less big money in our elections, not more. Wealthy interests have already been hacking away at common sense campaign finance rules. In McCutcheon v. FEC, one wealthy donor – along with the Republican National Committee – is asking the Supreme Court to let him put even more money directly into political campaigns. That’s the opposite of what our democracy needs.
- This is a “people versus money” case, and I’m standing on the side of the people. Aggregate contribution limits – the specific issue in the case – only affect the wealthiest donors. For the upcoming election cycle, the limit is roughly $123,000 – that’s more than double the median household income in our country!
- This is another step in the ongoing attack on our democracy. In their 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court majority gave the green light to corporations spending unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections. It is not surprising that this ruling was very unpopular with Americans of all political affiliations. In the McCutcheon case, the attack on our democracy continues – this time through a potential gutting of one of the last remaining pillars of our campaign finance legal structure, aggregate contribution limits.
- What Americans want is for our voices, and our votes, to count. Everyone’s voice should be sacred in our democracy, no matter our age, race, or the number of zeros on our paycheck. There is growing momentum across the country for pro-democracy reforms. Sixteen states and more than 500 towns and cities – including New York and Los Angeles – have gone on record in support of amending the Constitution to ensure our elections and democracy remain in the hands of the people.
- In the face of the influx of big money into our elections, the integrity of our democracy must be protected. The effect of removing the aggregate contribution limit would be that the richest donors could pass tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a single candidate through joint fundraising committees and PACs. And when big donors can find ways to give eye-popping sums of money to candidates, the potential for corruption is obvious. That’s not the kind of democracy we want to live in.
On October 8 - the day the Supreme Court hears the oral argument in McCutcheon - activists are protesting outside the Court and around the country to raise awareness about the case and rally in support of democratic reform.
To view a list of cities where events are taking place, click here.
The biggest October 8 rally will be outside the Supreme Court at 9:30 AM. Check out the Facebook Event page for the protest. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Supreme Court Rally” if you wish to attend and want more information. The protest will feature Congresspeople and movement leaders (full speakers list TBD).
Following the morning’s protest outside the Supreme Court, activists are spending the day on Capitol Hill lobbying lawmakers on campaign finance reform, particularly advocating for: amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases; enacting disclosure laws and shareholder accountability measures; and providing for public financing of elections.
Prior to the October 8 lobby day, advocacy organizations are hosting a three-hour long “activist training” featuring legislative experts and Congresspeople to educate lobby day participants on how to lobby effectively.
To learn more and RSVP, please email email@example.com with the subject line “Oct 8 Lobby Day.”
Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) is an effective way of raising awareness on an issue. The McCutcheon case offers activists a timely opportunity to discuss the need for democratic reform and campaign finance regulation.
PFAW is here to help facilitate the LTE submission process. If you’re interested in submitting an LTE, please read the following suggestions and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, using the subject headline “LTE McCutcheon.”
- Be brief. As a general rule, you will want to keep your LTE under 200 words. However, be sure to find out the LTE guidelines of the paper you are submitting to beforehand to double-check that 200 words is an acceptable length. Generally guidelines are posted online. However you can also find out by calling the newspaper’s office.
- Be creative. The best letters to the editor make readers look at an issue in a new way — introduce interesting facts that weren’t in the paper’s coverage of the issue, or look at the same facts from a different angle.
- Make it personal. If you can tie your letter to the editor in to local events or connect it to local personalities, do that. The more personal and the more local your letter is, the more compelling it will be.
- Do not feel obligated to only submit LTEs to large newspapers. Your local paper is a great place to start the discussion. At the same time, do not feel hesitant to submit to bigger papers even if the chances of acceptance are slimmer.
- Be sure to include your contact information in your submission. Many newspapers will contact an LTE submitter before publication. If you do not feel comfortable sharing your information publicly, be sure to make that stipulation at the bottom of your letter.
What to Write About
Using the case background, talking points and solution sections, provide information on money in politics and what McCutcheon is all about. Keep in mind your audience will most likely have never heard of the McCutcheon case before, so your LTE should primarily be educational.
Include both timely and local information in your LTE, such as:
- The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the McCutcheon case on October 8.
- Activists will be on the steps of the Supreme Court that day, voicing their opposition to more money flooding our political system.
- People here in [city or state] and across the country want our elected officials to be responsive to the concerns of everyday Americans, not just the wealthiest among us. (You may live in a city or state that has called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases. If so, your LTE on McCutcheon is a great way to showcase the amendment movement. To view a list of local and state amendment resolutions, click here.)
Conclude with an opinion and/or call to action, possibly something along the lines of:
- Calling upon all citizens and public officials at all levels of government to support efforts to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
- Calling upon citizens in your community to support a local/state campaign finance reform measure – whether it be passing FAIR elections in New York, passing a disclosure bill in California, or supporting an amendment resolution in Minnesota.
- Asking why anyone would support big money, and thus more risk of corruption, in our democracy.
- Making clear that everyone’s voice should be heard and valued in our political system, not just the voices of the super-wealthy.
After Submitting Your LTE
- If your LTE has been printed, please let us know. We’ll work to amplify your message.
- If your LTE is not accepted, do not be deterred. There are many ways you can contribute to the movement, such as by talking to friends and your community about the case or by sharing your thoughts with your local, state and federal representatives by repurposing your LTE as a letter to a lawmaker.
Advocates are using the hashtag #McCutcheon for all tweets/shares related to the case. Here are some sample tweets you can use.
Another way to show your support is by sharing images on Facebook (or other social media). Click on the images below and select “share” to share them on your own Facebook page.
McCutcheon provides us with a rare opportunity to showcase just how bad our current campaign finance system is; and to demand meaningful reform to fix that system. Although we hope the Supreme Court upholds aggregate limits just as it did nearly four decades ago, we are aware that we cannot rely on the Court to correctly interpret the scope of the First Amendment and that, regardless of the outcome in McCutcheon, true victory cannot come from maintaining the status quo.
In this sense, the McCutcheon case is much larger than aggregate limits – McCutcheon is part of a concerted effort on behalf of powerful, wealthy interests to subvert our democracy for plutocratic gain.
Such an organized attack on our democracy can only be countered by a people’s movement to end corruption and demand political equality in the governing process. We must expand the democratic enterprise so that all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and so that the interests of the people are represented at all levels of government.
To enact this vision, we must pursue “Money Out, Voters In” reforms. In order to get the “Money Out,” it is imperative that we:
- Amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases to rein in the overreach of the Supreme Court;
- Enact commonsense disclosure and shareholder accountability laws to mitigate the negative effects brought upon by Citizens United and related cases; and
- Provide for public financing in elections to remove the undue influence of entrenched interests from the political process.
To find out more about “Money Out, Voters In” reforms, please read People For the American Way’s report “Money Out, Voters In: A Guide To Democratic Reform.”
To read the amicus briefs filed in the McCutcheon case, click here.
To read People For the American Way Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin’s analysis on why we must amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases, click here.
To view a list of states and municipalities that have called for a constitutional amendment, click here.
To read more about “Money Out, Voters In” reforms, please read People For the American Way’s report “Money Out, Voters In: A Guide To Democratic Reform.”
For communications/media-related questions about the McCutcheon case, please contact Layne Amerikaner at email@example.com or (202) 467-2305.