Columns / Discourse / October 16, 2013

Debating columnists: Don’t put a limit on political freedom

Shaun McCutcheon is the owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corporation in Alabama. He is a hardworking, successful businessman. McCutcheon regularly chooses, as is his right, to contribute a significant amount of money to political campaigns. However, during the 2011-12 election cycle, his act of civic goodwill was blocked by the federal limit on overall individual contributions.

Campaign contributions are a hotly debated item in the American media. With corporations, PACs and Super-PACs dominating the discussion, the topic of individual contributions often goes overlooked. In order to fully understand the issue at hand, a brief history of contribution limits is in order.

Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution is the matter of campaign contribution limits mentioned. So, how did these limits come into place? In an attempt to restore faith in the government after the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, drastic changes were in order. Thus, Congress put into place limits on the amount of money one can give to a political campaign.

McCutcheon has brought this issue all the way to the Supreme Court, challenging the current individual contribution limit. It appears as if the Supreme Court is looking to find a middle ground that “would allow individual donors to give more to candidates without opening the door to multi-million dollar direct contributions.”

I question whether this “middle ground” is what best aligns with the founding documents of our country. The essence of our political system is the idea that individuals will act out of self-interest more so than any other motive. It seems that placing limits on campaign contributions, thus severely restricting one’s ability to act in his or her self-interest, is simply un-American.

The main argument of those in favor of the contribution limit, as expressed by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr, is that donors “could potentially funnel massive amounts of money to a favored candidate.” Another argument is E.E. Shattschneider’s famous critique that successful interest groups have “a decidedly upper-class accent.”

I believe it would be wrong to deny either of these points. Yes, raising the limit that an individual is allowed to contribute to a political campaign could potentially allow massive amounts of money to go to a certain candidate. Yes, those who have more money will be able to have more of a financial impact on campaigns.

Ultimately though, I question how one can argue that restricting the ability of someone to financially support a candidate is in accordance with the Constitution of the United States of America. Would it not be discriminatory against the wealthy, those who are more able to support a candidate, to limit their ability to give money for something they believe in?

To make an analogy, albeit a silly analogy, what if the government had restrictions on how loudly one can yell at a campaign event? Some individuals are able to yell much more loudly than other individuals. Would it not be wrong to put a decibel limit on how loudly one can support his or her favored candidate? Those who are able and willing to yell above that decibel limit would certainly feel that their rights had been infringed upon.

Doesn’t this same argument apply to those giving financial contributions? After all, money talks.

Tags:  Coalmont Electrical Development Corporation corporation obama political campaign Shattschneider Shaun McCutcheon Supreme Court

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