In April, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the McCutcheon v. FEC case that abolished aggregate limits on contributions to federal campaigns. No longer are wealthy donors limited to giving a combined total of $123,200 to all federal candidates, parties and PACs. Instead, they can give up to the individual contribution limit to as many candidates or committees as they like. A new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics shows that major donors have already increased their campaign contributions, giving nearly $12 million more than would have been allowed before the court’s decision.
CRP analyzed campaign contributions through June 30 and found that “310 donors have given more than the total $123,200 they were allowed to contribute to candidates, parties and PACs before the April McCutcheon v. FEC ruling.” This group of just 310 donors has contributed approximately $11.6 million more than would have been allowed before the McCutcheon ruling, a 30 percent increase.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, Frontier Group worked with Demos to estimate how much more money could flow into federal elections if the court eliminated the aggregate cap. We estimated that wealthy donors could have tripled their giving during the 2012 election cycle had the caps not been in place at the time. In other words, the 1,219 elite donors (those who each contributed approximately $123,200 in 2012) could have increased their giving to exceed the contributions from 4 million small donors to the Obama and Romney campaigns. The Center for Responsive Politics’ new analysis doesn’t show giving on this order of magnitude—yet. The analysis includes data through the end of June, only three months after the court’s ruling. As November draws nearer, more wealthy donors may up their giving.
Fewer than one-tenth of one percent of Americans give more than $2,600 per election cycle, and the small group of donors who have that kind of money and are willing to contribute to campaigns already has a disproportionate influence. As I explained in this earlier post, now donors can have an even greater impact on who runs for office, what issues those candidates prioritize, and what positions candidates take.
The Washington Post spoke with one of the donors who is taking full advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision—“doling out contributions to congressional candidates across the country — in Colorado, Texas, Iowa and ‘even Alaska’”—and he offered a telling anecdote:
“Top Republicans have taken notice [of his giving]: Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have paid him personal visits this year, he noted proudly.
“‘You have to realize, when you start contributing to all these guys, they give you access to meet them and talk about your issues,’ said Sabin, who has given away more than $177,000.”
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Elizabeth Ridlington is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. She focuses primarily on global warming, toxics, health care and clean vehicles, and has written dozens of reports on these and other subjects. Elizabeth graduated with honors from Harvard with a degree in government. She joined Frontier Group in 2002. She lives in Northern California with her husband and son.