Why Major Parties Want Big Donors to Ditch Super PACs
By Justin Miller | Sep 21, 2015
In 2014, the Supreme Court dealt yet another blow to campaign finance regulations as it did away with contribution limits to political parties. The case, McCutcheon v. FEC, overturned the tenet of Federal Election Campaign Act that imposed individual aggregate contribution limits to national political parties and federal candidate committees.
While Citizens United created a whole new world of political money that operated outside of the traditional campaign finance framework, McCutcheon decimated that traditional framework by eliminating donation caps meant to keep the corrupting influence of big donors out of the party apparatuses and federal campaigns.
In the last presidential election cycle, the aggregate two-year contribution limit to political parties or federal candidates was $117,000. Now, as we enter the first post-McCutcheon presidential election, it seems that campaign finance reformers’ worst fears about unlimited aggregate contributions are coming true.
As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, both the national Republican and Democratic Party are urging their wealthiest supporters to contribute 10 times more than what was allowed in the last go-around.
“Under the new plans, which have not been disclosed publicly, the top donation tier for the Republican National Committee has soared to $1.34 million per couple this election cycle,” The Post reports. “Democratic contributors, meanwhile, are being hit up for even more—about $1.6 million per couple—to support the party’s convention and a separate joint fundraising effort between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.”
Such a rapid increase in contribution asks is turning the political fundraising world on its head. The political parties are soliciting massive donations in exchange for VIP treatment at the conventions, retreats with party leaders, and for the GOP at least, an explicit opportunity to “influence messaging and strategy.”
Some speculate that bringing mega-donors back into the traditional fundraising fold (and out of the super PAC world that has wreaked havoc on the parties’ functions) could reinvigorate the political power of the national parties, which have become eclipsed in recent years by individual candidates. Additionally, some prominent partisan donors see the benefit in donating (and wielding influence) directly to parties and, thus, the eventual nominee, rather than gambling millions by backing an individual candidate’s super PAC during an especially volatile primary season. Just how much of a big-money exodus from super PAC to political party there will be is still unclear.
While McCutcheon did away with contribution caps, there was also a backroom political deal late last year that tucked a vast expansion of party fundraising capabilities into a spending bill. That provision raised the limit for individual contributions to national party committees from $97,200 to a whopping $777,600. Marc Elias, who is now Hillary Clinton’s general counsel, was the key architect of that provision.
And Hillary stands to gain a lot from a well-funded Democratic Party, which she has partnered with early on to set up a joint-fundraising account that gives her campaign a small cut of contributions to the DNC.
The optics of all this doesn’t bode well for her supposed commitment to campaign finance reform, on which I wrote about last week.
Meanwhile, reform advocates aren’t happy with this new development. “This is a return to the old system of using the parties as vehicles to launder the buying and selling of government influence and decisions,” Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, told the Post.