Mike McCabe On U.S. Supreme Court Campaign Finance Ruling

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Mike McCabe On U.S. Supreme Court Campaign Finance Ruling

Premiere Date: 
April 4, 2014

The executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign discusses this week's ruling.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Now more news from Washington. Reaction was swift on Wednesday when the US supreme court struck down limits to overall campaign contributions. The justices voted five to four to remove limits on how much a contributor can give to candidates, political parties and PACs. The White House says it's disappointed. Senator John McCain of Arizona, who lead the campaign finance reform movement with former Wisconsin Senator, Russ Feingold, reacted by saying, "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." On the other side of the debate is Wisconsin's own Reince Priebus. The Republican national committee chairman said the courts action was, "...an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse."

We run all this by Mike McCabe now. He's the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Mike, thanks very much for being here.

Mike McCabe:

My pleasure.

Frederica Freyberg:

I wanted to kind of distill this this way. Say that I'm a rich person, I have a lot of money, and I want to spend that money on a lot of candidates. How does this week's high court ruling change things for me? 

Mike McCabe:

You could give $2,600 for an individual candidate for congress, for example, but now you’re going to be able to give $2,600 to potentially even hundreds of candidates and party committees and other political committees that can then steer money to a candidate that maybe is facing a really tough re-election campaign. So in fact, instead of getting $2,600 worth of support from you, that candidate can get tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars of your money to help with the campaign. 

Frederica Freyberg:

So in other words, if my intent was actually to give a ton of money to one candidate, all of my spending on a bunch of candidates could be funneled and transferred legally to that one. 

Mike McCabe:

That's why aggregate limits were put in place in the first place, is try to prevent what is in effectively money laundering, to get around campaign contribution limits. Because now, what you’re going to be able to do is give not only the maximum contribution to the candidate that you want to help, but you can give to many others who can then steer that money to that candidate who is facing that tough battle. It is a way around those individual contribution limits.

Frederica Freyberg:

However, these contributions to candidates and PACs have to be disclosed, so aren't we making money in politics more transparent? 

Mike McCabe:

That was the argument that was used by lawmakers here in Wisconsin who said we should double the limits on campaign contributions. They said that that’ll make the money be steered to candidates instead of these outside interest groups. Well, we had a test of that in the recall elections that we had in Wisconsin. Because there were no limits at all on the donations to the officials targeted for recall.  We saw donations of as much as half a million dollars to a candidate. But that didn't stop money from also being steered to the outside interest groups which actually still out-spent the candidates. And that money remained invisible or cloaked in secrecy. So it doesn't get us away from these dark money groups and their influence. It just allows the donors to not only fund the dark money groups, but then also directly funnel money in much larger quantities to the candidates. 

Frederica Freyberg:

It just means more and more money. 

Mike McCabe:

More and more money.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about the argument though that this is a First Amendment right? 

Mike McCabe:

Well, you know, the First Amendment has only 45 words, and the word ‘money’ is not among those 45 words. And what the court has done is effectively removed the "r" from free speech. You know, they’ve slowly but surely transformed the right to free speech into a privilege that has to be purchased at great expense. Only 12,019 donors nationally reached that limit that just got struck down. In a country of 300 million people, a tiny segment have the ability to pour that much money into campaigns.  Their ability has now been magnified by many times over.

Frederica Freyberg:

Not much time left, but what affect does the high court ruling have in Wisconsin? 

Mike McCabe:

Wisconsin is among the states that also has aggregate limits in place to try to prevent people from getting around individual contribution limits. Those limits will now be challenged, and the interests challenging those limits will say, hey, the supreme court’s ruling in McCutcheon means that these laws are invalid too. So it’s going to have big implications at the state level.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Mike McCabe, thanks very much.

Mike McCabe:

My pleasure.


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