Supreme Court decision to have major implications for state and local campaign finance

Local limits on campaign funding will be easily challengeable in court

On April 2, the Supreme Court removed restrictions from campaign finance laws, removing the limits of the total amount of money that a donor can provide to candidates as well as state and local political committees. And while many people are focused on the potential implications for a Presidential race, it could be those state and local contributions that have the greatest effect.

According to Reuters, 12 states and Washington D.C. have laws on the books limiting contributions to candidates and parties. However, even though the Supreme Court decision only dealt with federal contributions, those state and local limits can now be easily challenged in lower courts.

Many state officials have already taken notice. In Maryland, for example, state regulators have already told election lawyers that the state will stop enforcing a limit of $10,000 to party committees in state elections every four years. Massachusetts, meanwhile, also said that it will stop enforcing the state’s limit on candidate donations.

Election lawyers interviewed by Reuters see a rise in election contribution challenges in court coming soon. Lawyer James Bopp, who represented Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon in the Supreme Court Case, said, “I handle a lot of cases, and I'm not done yet.” Kentucky-based Bobby Birchfield, who represented Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in the case, said that he and a “merry little band of constitutional lawyers who work in this area” see a range of challenges to local laws, including restrictions on spending by political parties.

The losers in this scenario are those who are able to give the $123,200 maximum that was previously federal law for the 2014 election cycle, but not much more. Under this Supreme Court decision, they could very well be overshadowed by bigger-money donors. “I used to be able to be finished at $123,200,” said one donor. “That was pretty much a lot, and it was a nice feeling when I was done," the donor said. “Now I guess the limit is $3.5 million or something, which is so far above my head it's ridiculous.”

Political parties, though, are expected to be clear winners as a result of the ruling. The ability to take in these greater contributions raises the political clout relative to Super PACs and nonprofit groups. Some, such as Republican lawyer Charlie Spies, said that this is a positive development for both sides to make their messages known.

“You'll be strengthening political parties, and that probably leads to more moderated discourse, because parties tend to be more responsible actors than more short-term, outside groups,” Spies said.

 

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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