Category Archives: campaign finance

McCutcheon Comes to Maryland

Today, the State Board of Elections lifted the aggregate limits on the total amount that any individual could donate on state races in Maryland. Previously, donors could give only $10,000 total in any four-year election cycle. That is no longer the case.

This change is not due to a shift in Maryland law but to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which invalidated the federal limits from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The $4000 limit on the amount that can be donated to a single state candidate in Maryland remains in place–for now. This limit will increase to $6000 after the 2014 elections.

Lobbyists and wealthy people can expect to be hit up even more as they can no longer plead that they’ve maxed out. It’s also an invitation to extremely wealthy individuals who want to expand their influence in Maryland politics. Common Cause (h/t) outlined their view in a statement:

The State Board of Elections issued guidance today that eliminates the aggregate limits for campaign donations. This guidance was anticipated as the state grapples with the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon, which was released last week.

“Before this guidance came out, donors could only give $10,000 for all their political spending – to candidates, political action committees, and slates,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “Eliminating that limit will have a direct and alarming influence on Maryland’s political landscape starting with this year’s election. The cost to run for office – particularly for down-ballot races, such as Delegate and County Council, will increase exponentially as a result.”

“The last defense we have against big money influencing our elections is the individual limit on donations to candidates,” said Bevan-Dangel. “We are very concerned about how the Board’s guidance will be implemented to ensure that donors do not use slates and political action committees to skirt that last line of defense.”

Individual limits are currently $4,000 but will increase to $6,000 starting in 2015.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC was 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 Bevan-Dangel. “This decision makes alternative fundraising mechanisms, such as public funding for elections, even more critical. Public funding empowers more diverse candidates to run because it gives an alternative to major donor fundraising. And it empowers everyday citizens to engage in the political process because it leverages their small donations and turns them into major donors.”

“We hope that the McCutcheon case spurs Montgomery County to act quickly on the public funding bill under consideration and encourages other counties and the state to establish alternate funding sources to ensure that the extremely wealthy cannot drown out the voice of everyday citizens in our political process.”

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Don’t Pick Up the Phone

The General Assembly is out of session. There are now around ten weeks between now and the primary. So it’s that dangerous time when the thoughts of legislative candidates turn to their campaign accounts. And how they wish there was more in them.

Whatever you do, don’t pick up the phone unless you want to open your wallet, volunteer to give time, or just feel like having a nice chat with a stranger. No amount is too small. Don’t have $100. How about $50. Or even $25 so we can broaden our contribution base? Even $10 can help.

If you’re really wealthy, you can’t even use the excuse of having maxed out anymore because the Supreme Court did away with the limits on the total amount anyone can donate with the McCutcheon decision, though the limits on the amount you can donate to a single candidate remain in place.

Lobbyists really hate the McCutcheon decision as they know they’ll be dunned more than ever. While the wealthy can at least just say no, it’s harder for lobbyists who know that they may well be knocking on these same people’s door and at least want a hearing.

Of course, the not so big secret of campaign finance is that most candidates hate asking for money even more than other people hate giving it. They didn’t seek office to become fundraisers. Oh sure, some are good at it and thrive on it. But most would rather do just about anything else.

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What McCutcheon v. FEC Means for Maryland

Today’s 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC has implications for campaign finance law in Maryland as well as the federal level.

McCutcheon voided aggregate limits on contributions. Put another way, the Court voided the bar on any individual donating more than $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to political parties. At least for now, the Court upheld the limit on donating $2600 to any one candidate but Chief Justice Roberts would clearly like to get rid of it.

The Court’s decision is grounded in precedents that go back to Buckley v. Valeo that view campaign spending as the equivalent of free speech. The five person majority on the Court believes that the aggregate limits violate the First Amendment by limiting speech.

Presumably, Maryland’s limit of any individual or other entity donating more than a total of more than $10,000 to candidates, PACs, or political parties is now also unconstitutional. The $4000 limit on donations to any one candidate, PAC, or political party should remain in place.

The change will allow wealthy individuals or PACs to invest in a much broader array of races. Moreover, wealthy donors have all the more reason to screen their calls. They should now expect to get hit up more aggressively by candidates, as they can no longer say that they’ve hit the limit and cannot donate legally to them.

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