Who are the Winners in the Super-Rich Supreme Court Ruling?

Friday, April 04, 2014
Charles R. Schwab (AP photo)

Billionaires and multi-millionaires across the United States will have more opportunities to spend large sums of money on federal elections, thanks to the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling to throw out established limits on campaign contributions.


In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (pdf), the court’s conservative wing prevailed to eliminate overall limits on how much individuals can give to candidates and political parties.


Speaking for the court majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.”


The ruling was dubbed by critics as a sequel to the 2010 Citizens United (pdf) case, in which the conservative justices threw out limits on how much corporations and labor unions can spend on independent political activity.


In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that the majority’s ruling “fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.”


“The Supreme Court is turning our representative system of government into a sandbox for millionaires and billionaires,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, which supports campaign finance limits, told The Washington Post.


With this week’s ruling now in place, government watchdog groups are expecting a significant increase in wealthy donor spending on congressional candidates in this year’s midterm election.


Two of those organizations, the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics, looked at those rich contributors who were coming up against the now-tossed limits before the court ruled. They found at least 19 individuals from Virginia to California who are likely to increase their giving, probably significantly, this year. They include:


(Favor Republicans)

  • ·         Stephen Bechtel, Jr., retired chairman and current director of the Bechtel Corp., a leading international contractor, who resides in California.
  • ·         Charles R. Schwab, the California-based founder of the famous brokerage firm bearing his name, who is worth more than $5 billion.
  • ·         Ron Gidwitz, a successful Illinois investor and financial consultant, who has run for office himself (lost his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2005).
  • ·         Muneer Satter, former managing director of Goldman Sachs, who along with his wife, Kristen Hertel, have focused on Republican candidates, but have contributed to some Democrats as well, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
  • ·         John W. Childs, a Massachusetts billionaire from the world of corporate leveraged buyouts.


(Favor Democrats)

  • ·         Nelson Rising, a prominent Los Angeles real estate developer.
  • ·         Marsha Z. Laufer, a professor and speech pathologist at Stony Brook University on Long Island, now residing in Florida.
  • ·         George Krupp, co-founder of the Boston-based real estate investment the Berkshire Group.


The Supreme Court’s McCutcheon ruling eliminated the limit on how much an individual can give federal candidates and parties in a two-year cycle ($123,200 for 2013-2014). But the decision did not change the base limits on contributions, which remains at $5,200 per candidate in a two-year cycle.


The impact of McCutcheon is it will permit the rich to give $5,200 to more candidates with the lifting of the $123,200 ceiling.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Supreme Court Ruling Gives Small Number of Wealthy Donors New Ways to Drive Campaigns (by Matea Gold, Washington Post)

Most Likely to Exceed: Who's Poised to Double Down Post-McCutcheon (Sunlight Foundation and Center for Responsive Politics)

Did almost 600 Donors Break Campaign Finance Law in 2012? (by Lee Drutnam, Sunlight Foundation)

Winners and Losers from the McCutcheon v. FEC Ruling (by Chris Cillizza, Washington Post)

A Blistering Dissent in ‘McCutcheon’: Conservatives Substituted Opinion for Fact (Moyers & Company)

McCutcheon v. FEC (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)

Super-Rich Campaign Donors Look Forward to “Citizens United 2” Supreme Court Case (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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