A coal executive walks into a member of Congress’s office with a $100,000 check in hand and says, “I will hand you this check if, and only if, you vote against any fracking permits on federal land—it’s bad for the local water supply, and besides I don’t need the competition.” The Representative accepts the check and then votes “nay” when the time comes. Is that corrupt? Most people would say yes—it’s a paradigm case. After all, there is a quid pro quo exchange—you do this, I give you that.
Next Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court is scheduled (pending shutdown nonsense) to hear oral arguments on McCutcheon v. FEC, a challenge to the total cap on the amount of money one wealthy individual is permitted to contribute to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs.
The current “aggregate contribution limit” is $123,200—twice the median household income in the U.S. As you might imagine, this cap affects very few people; just 1,219 people were at, over, or within 10 percent of the limit for the 2012 election cycle.
I’m guessing you are not sitting on $150,000 you’d like put into politics next year—so, why should you care?