3 Apr 2014

US campaign donation rules loosened again

3:42 pm on 3 April 2014

The US Supreme Court has struck down overall contribution limits for individual political donors, in a ruling that critics say will expand even further the influence of big money in politics.

Joan Stallard (left) protesting outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC as Scott Dorn looks on.

Joan Stallard (left) protesting outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC as Scott Dorn looks on. Photo: AFP

The court ruled 5-4 that individuals can give to candidates, parties and political groups without observing an overall cap of $143,000. It left in place the limit on how much a donor can give to a single candidate - currently just over $3000.

Contribution limits were established by Congress in the 1970s in an attempt to restore the public's faith in government after President Richard Nixon's resignation over the Watergate scandal. A series of rulings have since relaxed those limits, the BBC reports.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court lifted limits on election spending by political action committees, in a landmark case known as Citizens United.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the latest majority-opinion ruling that overall limits "intrude without justification" on first amendment rights, the clause of the American constitution that enshrines freedom of speech.

The court along its liberal and conservative wings, with Justice Stephen Breyer taking the unusual step of reading his dissent from the bench. "Taken together with [Citizens United]," he wrote, "today's decision eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican and owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corporation in Alabama.

Before the US elections two years ago, Mr McCutcheon made individual donations to 15 congressional candidates but was unable to donate to another dozen candidates because that would have broken the overall limit.

"It's a very important case about your right to spend your money how you choose," he has said.