Within hours of a U.S. Supreme Court decision paving the way for a new gusher of political cash, Ben Barnes’s telephone starting ringing.
He and his daughters had already given the maximum amount for this year’s congressional elections to candidates and committees under federal law. After that donation cap was overturned in a 5-4 court ruling issued by the justices yesterday, Barnes found himself on the telephone with two Democratic members of Congress seeking more money.
“This will make the phone ring all that much more,” said the longtime Texas donor who expects to be kept busy managing new solicitations in the days ahead. “Tomorrow’s going to be like Saturday at the grocery store,” said Barnes.
In a case brought by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican official, the court struck the $123,200 overall limit on campaign contributions, which critics said hamstrung the number of candidates and committees that donors could support. The majority justices said the limit violated the donors’ free speech rights. The court left in place restrictions on how much a donor can give to one entity; for example, no more than $5,200 total to a candidate for a cycle's primary and general elections.
Standing to gain the most from the change are the Democratic and Republican parties. Until now, aggregate limits were so tight that it prevented donors from giving the maximum amounts to all three of the national party committees: one for House candidates, another for Senate contenders and the third to finance operations at the national headquarters.
In addition, contributors may now give $10,000 per year to federal units attached to the 50 state parties. Those state parties can transfer money freely to one another, enabling those with hotly contested races to stockpile funds from less-competitive states.
The bottom line: On April 1, a donor could give no more than $74,600 to all of the political parties every two years. Today, party contributions can be as much as $1,194,400.Politico reports that big donors worry that McCutcheon will subject them to endless hounding by party fundraisers:
“I’m horrified, planning to de-list my phone number and destroy my email address,” said Ken Kies, who, along with his wife, has bumped up against the federal political contribution limits.
“What I was really hoping for is a ban on lobbyists making contributions entirely.”
While it’s an open question how much new money will come in, it’s certain some will — and insiders are eager to make sure it greases the Washington economy.
“I’m poor again as a result,” joked Tony Podesta, a top lobbyist and major donor who is among the small number of K-Streeters who contribute nearly the maximum amount to candidates each election cycle. “The fundraising consultants are the only winner in today’s decision.”
Podesta said for those donors, the new rule “eliminates an excuse that people have to say I’m done for the cycle and I can’t do anymore, which means that people who do max out will end up giving more money than they used to to candidates.”