U.S. Supreme Court tosses overall cap on campaign contributions, keeps individual limits

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that caps on aggregate campaign contributions are unconstitutional, but left in place limits on individual donations to candidates.

At question in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC were overall limits on giving to candidates, political action committees and parties.

Those caps were put into place in the wake of the Watergate scandal and as of 2013 limited donors to a grand total of $123,200 in contributions over a two-year period, including a ceiling of $48,600 to federal candidates and a $74,600 maximum on contributions to parties and PACs. That would mean a donor could give the maximum $2,600 individual contribution to 18 congressional candidates before hitting the limit.

Under Wednesday’s ruling, donors can now give up to the maximum $2,600 individual contribution to as many federal candidates as they choose.

Chief Justice John Roberts, backed by three other Republican-appointed justices, wrote the majority opinion in the case.

Roberts acknowledged that “Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption” and that “money in politics may at times seem repugnant,” but argued “the aggregate limits do little, if anything, to address (quid pro quo corruption), while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, also appointed by a Republican president, joined Roberts in the majority, but produced his own opinion in which he said he would have gone even further and done away with limits on campaign contributions entirely.

Justice Stephen Breyer issued a highly critical dissenting opinion on behalf of himself and the three other members appointed by Democratic presidents, saying the majority 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.”

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a chief sponsor of the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, said he was disappointed by the case’s outcome.

“I predict that as a result of recent court decisions, there will be scandals involving corrupt public officials and unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions that will force the system to be reformed once again,” McCain said.

However, Republican U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had filed a brief with the court in support of doing away with aggregate contribution limits, said the ruling “reminded Congress that Americans have a constitutional First Amendment right to speak and associate with political candidates and parties of their choice.”

Campaign-finance reform advocates expressed dismay over the ruling, saying it echoed the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down limits on independent spending by corporations in elections.

“Today’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC is Citizens United round two, further opening the floodgates for the nation’s wealthiest few to drown out the voices of the rest of us,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause.

Full audio of oral arguments in the McCutcheon case, held in October of last year, can be heard below, courtesy of VoterRadio.com:

(Click here for MP3 audio version)


Read the full text of the McCutcheon decision, including Breyer’s dissent

The Washington Post offers a look at the winners and losers in the McCutcheon decision

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Chart: Voter turnout in North Carolina (primary vs. general elections)

Today’s fun with charts and graphs features a look at voter turnout in North Carolina:

The low turnout in primary elections may reflect a more intensely engaged (and more intensely ideological) segment of voters going to the polls than what candidates face in higher-turnout general elections.

This leads to the delicate dance that many contenders engage in to court their party’s base for the more insular primary, then shifting to the middle for the general election’s wider audience, with its growing segment of independent voters.

Unsurprisingly, turnout is stronger in years with a presidential election, given that the round-the-clock media coverage of the race for the White House raises voter awareness with a power not matched in non-presidential years.

The 2014 election may be unlikely to reach the 68 percent turnout seen in the 2012 presidential contest. But given a high-profile U.S. Senate race, along with deep antipathy felt among Republican voters toward the Affordable Care Act and profound dislike of the GOP-led legislature on the part of Democratic voters, this year could very well exceed the 44 percent turnout seen in the last mid-term election of 2010.

More fun with charts and graphs:

Snapshot: A look at who has received free voter IDs in N.C.

Could you afford to serve in the N.C. legislature?

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Snapshot: A look at who has received free voter IDs in N.C.

Some 260 North Carolina voters in 56 counties have thus far received free voter IDs from the DMV.

Under a law passed last year by the N.C. General Assembly, voters will need to show a photo ID when casting a ballot beginning in 2016.  While that requirement doesn’t begin for two more years, voters who do not have valid identification can already receive one at no cost from a DMV office.

Here is a quick look at who has received a free ID from Jan. 1 through Mar. 20:

According to data from the State Board of Elections, 55 percent of voter ID recipients thus far have been Democrats, followed by independent voters at 31 percent, Republicans at 12 percent and Libertarians at 2 percent.

The vast majority of ID recipients – 87 percent – have also taken the opportunity  to register to vote when requesting identification, compared to 12 percent that were already registered.

Men outpace women in requesting free IDs, 60-40 percent. African-American voters make up 62 percent of those who have received an ID, with white voters comprising 35 percent.

Voters 46-65 have been more likely to request a free ID than other age groups, at 40 percent, followed by voters age 18-29 at 34 percent.

Guildford County has had the largest share of voters receiving free IDs at 13 percent, with Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties at 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

While North Carolinians will not be required to show a photo ID until 2016, this year poll workers will inform voters of the upcoming requirement, which might spur an increase in requests for free ID cards from the DMV.

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Poll: No clear GOP frontrunner in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, but Hagan still vulnerable

Thom Tillis and Greg Brannon (Photos: Thom Tillis for U.S. Senate / Greg Brannon for U.S. Senate)

With eight weeks to go before the May 6 primary, no clear leader has emerged in the crowded pack of Republicans looking to take on incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

New numbers from Public Policy Polling find N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis tied with physician Greg Brannon at 14 percent. That signals a drop for Tillis, who last month led Brannon by 7 percentage points and was the top pick among GOP voters at 20 percent.

In this latest poll, Tillis and Brannon are followed by Heather Grant at 11 percent, along with Ted Alexander and Mark Harris both at 7 percent. Rounding out the field are Alex Bradshaw at 6 percent, Jim Snyder at 4 percent and Edward Kryn at 1 percent. More than a third of Republican voters – 36 percent – are still undecided on which contender they will support.

Brannon has recently faced negative headlines related to a court case in which he was found guilty of misleading investors in his startup company, an outcome he says he will appeal.

But he also has been able to tout endorsements from such tea party favorites as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, talk show host Glenn Beck and conservative columnist Ann Coulter. The support of those big names could keep Brannon competitive with Tillis, who is the perceived “Republican establishment” choice.

If no candidate is able to win at least 40 percent of the May 6 vote, the top two finishers will move on to a July runoff. Such a scenario could bode well for Hagan, forcing the Republicans to extend their primary fight and giving her more time to prepare for what is already shaping up to be a bruising election in the fall.

A similar situation played out in 2010, when the Democratic primary spilled into summer, en route to Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr winning re-election.

Hagan would likely welcome a drawn out Republican primary fight, as the new poll finds her essentially tied with each of her possible GOP challengers, even as her job approval is a net negative of 9 percent.

However, Hagan might take solace in the poll finding that while her Republican opponents are largely unknown among most North Carolina voters, those that do know of these GOP candidates have generally negative opinions of them. For instance, 45 percent of voters have no opinion of Tillis, but 41 percent view him unfavorably, compared to just 14 percent who have a positive opinion of him.

President Barack Obama may not be of much help to Hagan in her re-election bid, given that he polls worse among North Carolina voters than she does, with 55 percent disapproving of his job performance and 42 percent approving.

Tar Heel voters have warmed a bit to the Affordable Care Act, with 40 percent saying its implementation has been a success, compared to just 25 percent who said the same last month. However, with 54 percent of voters saying the health-care law’s enactment was unsuccessful – including 61 percent of independent voters –  Republicans are sure to make it a central campaign theme.

Still, Hagan may have a helpful campaign issue of her own. The same survey finds 63 percent of voters opposed to eliminating the minimum wage (an idea seemingly contemplated by Tillis). And 59 percent are in favor of raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour from the current $7.25, including 81 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents and 33 percent of Republicans.

Posted in Election 2014, North Carolina, Polls, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment

Ellmers warns of ‘onslaught of Big Hollywood funding’ in possible race against Aiken

Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers sent an email to her supporters on Tuesday, asking them to sign an online petition to show that they will stand with her against  “Liberal Hollywood.”

Ellmers also predicts that she will “be fighting an onslaught of Big Hollywood funding” and says that the “last thing this country needs right now is to send a liberal to Washington who will vote with Nancy Pelosi.”

While she does not refer to Democrat Clay Aiken by name, the show business allusions are a clear jab at the former “American Idol” contestant. Instead, she points to her “liberal Hollywood opponent.”

The email’s multiple mentions of Hollywood come after an earlier missive from the Ellmers campaign claimed that Aiken had “San Francisco values.”

While the two-term incumbent Ellmers has been hitting Aiken early on in the campaign for the Republican-leaning 2nd District, Aiken still must first win a May 6 primary contest against former state commerce secretary Keith Crisco and Toni Morris.

For her part, Ellmers faces a GOP primary against talk radio host Frank Roche, who is attempting to outflank her on the right.

When filing for office last week, Aiken responded to a question about Ellmers’ “San Francisco values” comment.

“Everybody up here knows I’ve been here my entire life, I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life, my mom won’t let me have anything but North Carolina values,” Aiken said.

Posted in Election 2014, North Carolina, U.S. Congress | 3 Comments