WASHINGTON — In its first major campaign finance case since the Citizens United ruling in 2010, the Supreme Court is considering whether to undo some limits on contributions from the biggest individual givers to political campaigns.
The justices will hear arguments Tuesday, the second day of their new term, in a dispute between the Obama administration and Republicans who are challenging the contribution limits as a violation of First Amendment rights.
Supporters of campaign finance laws say the case threatens contribution limits that Congress first enacted in 1974, following Watergate abuses.
In 2010, the 5-to-4 ruling in Citizens United freed corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they wish on campaign advocacy, as long as it is independent of candidates and their campaigns. That decision did not affect contribution limits to individual candidates, political parties, and political action committees.
Now, Republican activist Shaun McCutcheon of Hoover, Ala., and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky want the court to overturn the overall limits on what contributors may give in a two-year federal election cycle.
The total is $123,200, including a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates, for 2013 and 2014. The case would not affect the current $2,600 limit on individual contributions to any candidate for Congress, in any given election.
McCutcheon, owner of the Coalmont Electrical Development Corp. in McCalla, Ala., said he will spend a few hundred thousand dollars in the current election cycle, including large donations to so-called super PACs that are not affiliated with candidates.
McCutcheon gave the symbolically significant $1,776 to 15 candidates for Congress and wanted to give the same amount to 12 others. But doing so would have violated the overall cap.
The Republican challengers are asking the court to take an even more aggressive approach than merely overturning these particular limits. McConnell is leading the charge to urge the justices to ditch their practice of evaluating limits on contributions less skeptically than restrictions on spending.