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U.S. Supreme Court expands free speech to citizens in elections

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Today, April 2, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision eliminating the $123,200 contribution limit to political campaigns with the exception of Congressional candidates and those running for President of the United States. The $2,600 limit will continue for federal campaigns. The decision "chips away" at the previous 1976 Supreme Court ruling of Buckley v. Valeo when the court ruled for aggregate limits for political campaigns.

The Libertarian Party had filed an amicus curiae brief last year in the case to support the plaintiff, Shaun McCutcheon in his fight against the Federal Election Commission's limits to his free speech. In that brief they stated, "Thankfully, this Court has laid the foundation to correct Buckley’s error in Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010). This case provides this Court with the opportunity to reverse that wrong and restore the right of the people peaceably to assemble — the source of the people’s right of association — to the equal station to which that right is entitled according to the original First Amendment text."

McCutcheon gave the symbolically significant amount of $1,776 to 15 candidates for Congress and wanted to give the same amount to 12 others. But doing so would have put him in violation of campaign finance laws, violating his free speech rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

No further will Americans be stifled by how much they can give to political parties or the candidates of their choice. The 5-4 vote among the justices opens the flood gates and will help to streamline the contribution structure to candidates, political committees and political parties. It could also lead to better transparency of elections contributions as more, though not all, contributions will flow directly to campaigns rather than be hidden from view via other methods.

Justice Thomas argued in the decision that the decision did not go far enough and stated in the decision Buckley should have been overturned completely allowing limitless contributions to federal campaigns as well.

But some are not happy about the decision. Democratic U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer said today, ‘‘This in itself is a small step, but another step on the road to ruination. It could lead to interpretations of the law that would result in the end of any fairness in the political system as we know it.’’

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