Money in Politics
8:02 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

WSW: Fewer Limits on Campaign Donations

Occupy Kalamazoo protest in 2011 - file photo
Credit WMUK

WestSouthwest with Rich Robinson

Michigan Campaign Finance Network Director Rich Robinson says a recent Supreme Court decision is "one more step in the direction of monetizing American Democracy."

The court's ruling in the McCuthcheson v. Federal Election Commission struck down limits on much donors can give in total to various campaigns (NPR story here). Robinson issued a statement shortly afterward criticizing the ruling. He told WMUK's Gordon Evans that this decision is the latest in a series from the Supreme Court that eliminated limits on how much donors can give to candidates. 

It's unclear how much the change will impact this year's election. Robinson says not many people give the maximum amount in federal or state elections. But he says wealthy families can maximize their contributions to several candidates, party committees and political action committees. Robinson says the law would allow a family of wealthy donors to funnel a large bundle of money through one candidate. He says the Supreme Court has put a narrow definition of corruption saying only "quid pro quo" corruption can be regulated. 

The attorney for the Republican National Committee in the case calls the ruling a "victory for free speech" in an op-ed for USA Today

"There is a great deal about critical spending on money in politics that we just don't know."

Robinson's statement also called for more transparency if the court is going to remove limits on how much can be contributed.  He says currently television ads are being run that are "issue ads" because they don't have the words "vote for" or "vote against" a candidate. But Robinson says these seem to be campaign ads because they criticize a candidate. He says most of the money spent on those ads isn't disclosed. "There is a great deal about critical spending on money in politics that we just don't know." 

Interview with Rich Robinson - web version

"What we're seeing in the official record of campaign spending is but the tip of the iceberg."

By the time voters go to the polls, Robinson says much information will be available about the spending of campaign committees. But he says much less will be known about the spending and donors of outside groups in various races. "What we're seeing in the official record of campaign spending is but the tip of the iceberg."