IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

After gutting money in politics laws, GOP moves to take advantage

Since the McCutcheon ruling, the GOP has created new fundraising vehicles that let the rich pour yet more money into politics. Democrats have been left behind.
An attendee makes an additional donation during a fundraiser in Atlanta on Sept. 19, 2012.
An attendee makes an additional donation during a fundraiser in Atlanta on Sept. 19, 2012.

Now that they’ve eliminated a key pillar of campaign finance law, Republicans are wasting no time taking advantage. They’re creating a new crop of fundraising vehicles designed to let the rich pour even more money into political campaigns than ever before.

Democrats have been far slower off the mark. That could give the GOP a crucial edge this fall, when control of the U.S. Senate—and what’s left of President Obama’s agenda–will hang in the balance.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month in McCutcheon v. FEC, striking down limits on the total amount big donors can give, Republicans have set up two new fundraising entities.

One, the Republican Victory Fund, is a joint committee involving the party's three big campaign arms: the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee. It will allow donors to write checks worth $97,200—up from the $74,600 allowed before the court's decision. That money would then be disbursed to GOP candidates as the party sees fit.

“We’ve had meetings with the other committees and are moving forward on a joint fundraising agreement with the NRSC and NRCC so we can maximize our donations to help candidates win in November,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski told Politico, which first reported news of the committee's formation. 

The second, known as the 2014 Senators Classic Committee, comprises 19 Republican senate candidates, including several in tight races like Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Terry Lynn Land in Michigan and Cory Gardner in Colorado. These umbrella committees for Senate candidates have existed in past cycles. But now, thanks to McCutcheon, they can accept $98,8000 from a single donor--double what was previously allowed.

It’s exactly what campaign finance advocates warned would happen if the aggregate limits were scrapped—warnings that were rubbished by the conservative majority on the court.

The McCutcheon case was essentially a Republican party production. Shaun McCutcheon, a wealthy Alabama businessman, wanted to give more money, in aggregate, to Republican candidates and committees than the law allowed. The RNC was a co-plaintiff, and both the NRSC and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell submitted supportive briefs.

Democrats largely backed the contribution limits at issue in McCutcheon and condemned the court’s ruling. So it’s no surprise that the party hasn’t yet moved to take advantage of the changed campaign finance landscape in the way Republicans have.

Asked earlier this month by CNN’s Candy Crowley whether Democrats would play by the new rules even though they don’t like them, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi didn’t answer directly. “It’s the donors’ choice,” Pelosi said, after some awkward bobbing and weaving.

A similar dynamic played out the last time a Supreme Court ruling allowed opened the floodgates for more money in politics, with its 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.

Republicans seized on the decision by creating Super PACs, which supplied massive amounts of outside spending in the 2010 midterms, giving themselves a crucial leg up. Democrats, including Obama, were slower to accept the changed landscape and didn't embrace their own Super PACs until the 2012 cycle.

If the same thing happens this time around—with  the race for control of the Senate likely to be decided by tiny margins—the cost to Democrats could be even greater.