Read the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling

The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision Wednesday to strike down overall limits within federal law on campaign contributions, stating that Americans have a right to give the legal maximum to congressional and presidential candidates.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, supported by Justices Anthony Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito. Roberts, quoting 1976’s campaign finance ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, wrote that limits interfered with First Amendment rights:

For the reasons set forth, we conclude that the aggregate limits on contributions do not further the only governmental interest this Court accepted as legitimate in Buckley. They instead intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise “the most fundamental First Amendment Activities.”

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate opinion, stating he would’ve completely overturned Buckley v. Valeo and eliminated individual contribution limits.

The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, and supported by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Breyer warned that the decision “eviscerates” U.S. campaign finance laws:

Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

PBS NewsHour Political Editor Domenico Montanaro broke down what the court’s rulings mean:

  • Keeps in tact $2,600/person limit to candidates
  • Invalidates $48,600 limit on how much can be given to all candidates running for office
  • Invalidates $74,600 limit to non-candidate party committees, state and local parties, and PACs.

So, before this, you or me can could give a total of $123,000 in one cycle. We still can only give $2,600 to one candidate and $32,400 to a national party committee, $10,000 to a state party or $5,000 to another political committee — but the cap for how much we can spread it out has now been taken off. Here’s the full list of contribution limits.

Why this matters and why the Republican National Committee joined on: the RNC, state parties, and other committees now can raise the full limit from donors without having to worry about running up against the constraint of people maxing out their donations to help finance their efforts.

The reasoning for the ruling? The majority justices ruled basically that this Alabama businessman’s First Amendment right to free speech was violated by this cap.

How this is different from Citizens United: Citizens United gave corporations and unions the right to spend UNLIMITED amounts of money on things like ads, mailers, get-out-the-vote efforts. But it did not affect contributions to campaigns, committees, or state parties.

This all largely seems to boil down to the question of whether or not you believe money corrupts. The majority says no. Breyer argues the majority is relying on too “narrow” a definition of “corruption.”