SCOTUS released its latest Campaign Finance opinion today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The opinion can be found here, a short SCOTUS Blog analysis here, and more reportorial report here. In short, the decision removes the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (as amended) restriction on the overall amount of money donor can give directly to candidates and political action committees (so called "aggregate limits"). It left intact the per-candidate and per-PAC limits (so called "base limit").
I've not read the opinion, but the syllabus begins (citations omitted)
The right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute. Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. It may not, however, regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.
That all seems sensible enough, although distinguishing between permissible regulation of "the apprearance of corruption" and impermissible regulation of "the amount of money in politics" or relative restrictions seems rather murky and kind of difficult for the Court to do on a one-off basis (it's as if that should be left up to the political branches with the Court stepping in only in obvious cases of Congressional overreach...).
Anyway, the difficulty here, it seems, is that once we've determined that money is essential to effective excerise of 1st Amendment rights (in whatever arena), then where do you draw the line for when the use of money may be regulated? One answer, and the answer the court seems to be driving to, is that you can't draw such a line, so there should be no line and contributions should be unlimited, as long as they're not explicitly conditioned on some sort of quid pro quo from the candidate.
That would be an interesting world. I do wonder if uncapping contributions but allowing the federal government to "true up" the candidate who raises less money would be permissible. That is, if Candidate X raises $8 million and Candidate Y raises $2 million, could the government then give $6 million to Candidate Y?* Would that implicate the first amendment rights of the two candidates and/or their donors? If so, how? (ignoring some of practical issues that would come with this and how it could be gamed) Would it matter if Candidate X raised $8million from 2 people and Candidate Y raised $2 million from 20,000 people?
Just some random thoughts.
*I have it in my head that this was tried in one of the several states, but I can't put my finger on it.