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Supreme Court Shifts Power Back to Candidates

April 3, 2014 - 6:00pm

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a major decision Wednesday that will vastly impact the way candidates raise campaign cash.

Before the SCOTUS ruling, a donor could only give the maximum contribution, $2,600, to 18 different candidates -- a cap of around $50,000. But after Wednesdays ruling, the donor can now give the same contribution to as many candidates as he or she desires, with no cap on the total cost.

Donors would, however, still be prohibited from giving more than $5,200 to any one candidate over the course of the 2014 campaign.

Previously, the overall limit that individual donors could give to candidates during each two-year election cycle was $123,200 -- $48,600 of which could be given to federal candidates and a cap of $74,600 to political committees.

The old limits required donors to pick and choose which candidates they wanted to donate to -- leaving some unable to contribute to certain candidates because they had already maxed out.

The decision will allow individual donors to give to as many candidates as they want, but those with access to the contributions -- including state parties, senior lawmakers and presidents -- stand to benefit as well.

Lifting the contribution caps, said Chief Justice Roberts, is just another way for American citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights.

There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders, he wrote in a decision joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades -- despite the profound offense such spectacles cause -- it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.

Congress may not 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, wrote Roberts.

Some have argued the Supreme Courts decision will put power back in the hands of the uber wealthy -- much to the advantage of the Republican Party.

Indeed, Mitt Romney had significantly more individual donors contribute over $30,000 to his 2012 presidential campaign -- nearly 400 from Florida -- while President Barack Obama had roughly 144 Floridians cough up the same contributions.

Nancy Watkins, a Tampa-based certified public accountant with vast knowledge of campaign finance law says both parties stand to benefit equally, however.

Theres a false [belief] out there that large donors go to the Republican Party, but thats just not true, she said. The average contribution to the Republican Party is much smaller than the Democrats.

Parties also stand to benefit from the ruling since they'll be able to form joint fundraising committees and solicit multimillion-dollar checks on behalf of candidates. This means parties can reclaim influence from super-PACs and other independent groups raising money for candidates.

The decision, however, has not been met without controversy -- some argue it gives the wealthy a louder voice in the political process, but others believe it's hard to figure out where to draw the line.

People who have big money get to have big influence in politics, but where do we cut their rights off?" asked Watkins. "Its an impossible question to answer."

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen atAllison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter at@AllisonNielsen.

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