WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down limits on the aggregate amounts that individual donors can give to candidates, political parties and political action committees will force several states to rethink their cumulative limits on political gifts to candidates running for governor, legislature and other nonfederal offices.
On the day of the ruling, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance said it no longer would enforce the commonwealth’s aggregate limit of $12,500 on donations to state candidates. The office said it was reviewing the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission to determine whether a $5,000 aggregate limit on gifts to state political party committees would remain in effect.
Twelve other states — Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have at least some kind of aggregate limit on the books, according to data compiled by the Center for Competitive Politics, a campaign finance organization that filed an amicus brief in support of overturning the federal aggregation limits.
“If other states do not issue similar statements [to Massachusetts], and any of these state aggregate limits are challenged, it’s highly likely that they would be declared unconstitutional, according to the precedent set by the Court in McCutcheon,” the center wrote in a memo provided to reporters.
A spokesman for the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission told the CT Mirror that it was evaluating whether the ruling could affect the $30,000 aggregate limit on gifts that Nutmeg State residents can contribute. A spokesman for the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices said it was reviewing Maine’s $25,000 cap on donations. In Maryland, the director of campaign finance and candidacy at the Board of Elections told the Baltimore Sun that he was reviewing whether it would affect the state’s $10,000 aggregate limit.
Donald McGahn, a Republican campaign finance lawyer at law and lobby firm Patton Boggs who is a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said in an email that the McCutcheon ruling will reverberate through state election laws. State limits on the amounts of money parties can raise, imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, are likely to be next on the judicial chopping block, McGahn said.
“The McCain-Feingold restrictions on state and local parties are still there, yet the rationale for upholding all those limitations that was offered in McConnell v. FEC is gone,” McGahn said, referring to the 2003 case that upheld most of the McCain-Feingold legislation. “[It's] only a matter of time before those party restrictions fall.”
“Critics of the [campaign finance] laws will look at what provisions don’t meet the narrow test of preventing corruption” laid out in the McCutcheon decision, said Marc Elias of Perkins Coie, a Seattle law firm. “Insofar as the court has come to view parties more positively, we can assume those provisions [of campaign finance law] that restrict party activities are going to be on that list.”