Amazingly, however, the "big donor community" might actually be split regarding feelings to the McCutcheon decision. And while many of us could wish that rooting out corruption and a respect for honest governance would actually be a factor, the truth is far more a matter of economics.
Read more below the fold.
To begin with, a basic understanding of aggregate limits is in order. Prior to the McCutcheon ruling, donors were limited regarding how much they could give in total to candidates for federal office and to political party committees. According to the Federal Election Commission, the limits in place for the 2013-2014 election cycle were:
$48,600 in contributions to candidate committees; andCumulatively, then, the most a big donor could possibly give to federal candidates and political parties in this cycle is $123,200. With those limits removed, however, the amount of money that now be spread around is limited essentially only by the wealth of the donor. The most obvious example here is that of federal candidates: Under current contribution limits, a donor would only be able to give the maximum legal donation of $2,600 to 18 federal candidates before hitting the aggregate limit; given the fact that the number of contested federal races is far higher than that even during a midterm cycle, the increase in influence for wealthy donors here is obvious. But perhaps even more significant is the elimination of aggregate limits on party committees: while the most obvious example is the newfound ability to give a maximum $32,400 donation to several different committees of national parties (DNC, DCCC and DSCC, for instance), the effect goes far beyond this. Before McCutcheon, donors were only allowed to donate a total of $10,000 cumulatively to state and local parties in any election cycle. With these aggregate limits stuck down, it will now be possible for a big donor to give maximum contributions to both a state party and various local and county parties in the hopes of influencing a particular race.
$74,600 in contributions to any other committees, of which no more than $48,600 of this amount may be given to committees that are not national party committees.
Preventing this sort of thing is why aggregate limits existed in the first place. After all, the ability of maximum contribution limits to impede undue influence by wealthy donors only goes so far when there are multiple committees available with which to influence the same race. But are all wealthy donors happy about this newfound potential for profligacy? They most certainly are not:
They have a point, insofar as it extends to the politically inclined über-rich already reshaping the campaign finance landscape through free-spending Super PACs. But most lobbyists -- especially those hired guns not attached to a corporate office or trade association -- have much more limited means. They consider opening their wallets for pols to be a cost of doing business, a necessary chore to ensure the access that keeps them employed. But they don't relish it. "I would be surprised if anyone on K Street was looking for ways to spend more campaign money," veteran Democratic lobbyist Paul Equale says. "And this decision clearly opens the door for that." Popular conceit envisions lobbyists as predators bullying lawmakers, but the coercion reverses during fundraising crunch times.And previous to the McCutcheon ruling, the donors who were most pressured had an easy excuse to say no: "hey, I would, but I can't! I'm up against the federal aggregate limit!" But these excuses are no more, and donors are actually not happy. The Public Campaign Action Fund has collected a sample of negative reactions from the people that one would have expected to be pleased about the ruling. The universal upshot is that these wealthy donors have money, but not unlimited money; and while they now have legal ability to give more than $123,200 in a particular election cycle, they may not actually have the budget for it.
“Many times I find myself saying to candidates, ‘I am sorry but my client is federally maxed out. That excuse for these donors is gone, and some people aren’t going to be happy.”Now, it's difficult to feel too sorry for people who have the wherewithal to spend more than most people's annual household income on political donations. But while we may think of the McCutcheon ruling as an issue that affects the one percent, it is actually more elitist than that. It takes an income of just under $400,000 to qualify among the top one percent, and people at this income level likely wouldn't dare contemplate spending nearly a sixth of their biennial income on reaching the aggregate limit for political donations in a given cycle. It's only when we reach the level of the top one tenth of one percent—an annual income level of $1.9 million, according to Forbes—that exceeding these aggregate limits becomes an easy thing to contemplate in terms of percentages.
In short, it's not perfectly accurate to think of the McCutcheon ruling in terms of the one percent against the world. Instead, the one percent might not be too pleased as a whole. But the last one tenth of that percent? They're the ones who will be able to take advantage of this ruling to rule our political system even more than they already do.