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Supreme Court halts overall limits on political donations

WASHINGTON — In another blow to federal election laws, the Supreme Court on Wednesday eliminated limits on the total amount people can donate to various political campaigns in a single election season. However, the court left intact the current $2,600 limit on how much an individual can give to any single candidate.

At issue is whether those regulations in the Federal Election Campaign Act violate the First Amendment rights of contributors.

The divided 5-4 ruling could have an immediate impact on November’s congressional midterm elections, and add another layer of high-stakes spending in the crowded political arena.

“We conclude that the aggregate limits on contributions do not further the only governmental interest this court accepted as legitimate” said Chief Justice John Roberts, referring to a 1976 ruling. “They instead intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to express the most fundamental First Amendment activities.”

Roberts was supported by his four more conservative colleagues.

In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the majority opinion will have the effect of creating “huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.”

The ruling leaves in place current donor limits to individual candidates, and donor disclosure requirements by candidates, political parties, and political action committees.

The successful appeal from Shaun McCutcheon, a 46-year-old owner of an Alabama electrical engineering company, is supported in court by the Republican National Committee.

They object to a 1970s Watergate-era law restricting someone from giving no more than $48,600 to federal candidates, and $74,600 to political action committees during a two-year election cycle, for a maximum of $123,200.

McCutcheon says he has a constitutional right to donate more than that amount to as many office seekers as he wants, so long as no one candidate gets more than the $2,600 per election limit.

But supporters of existing regulations say the law prevents corruption or the appearance of corruption. Without the limits, they say, one well-heeled donor could in theory contribute a maximum of $3.6 million to the national and state parties, and the 450 or so Senate and House candidates expected to run in 2014.

The case is McCutcheon v. FEC (12-536).

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