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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Supreme Court Thinks Politics Needs More Money

By now, the Supreme Court essentially will allow a law limiting contributions to stand only if it deems it necessary to avoid the appearance of quid pro quo corruption. 
Clarence Thomas raising his corruption shield? Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images
Clarence Thomas raising his corruption shield? Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Campaign finance law is dying the death of a thousand cuts. Today the U.S. Supreme Court delivered an especially devastating blow in striking down aggregate contribution limits. And the most remarkable part of it is that, under its own logic, the decision made perfect sense because the court said contributions to an unlimited number of candidates does not give rise to the "appearance of corruption."

At issue in the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, were limits on the total number of candidates to whom an individual could make the maximum campaign contribution. While these limits were enacted under the McCain-Feingold reform law of 2002, the idea goes back much further. In the case ofBuckley v. Valeo, in 1976, the Supreme Court upheld analogous limits. But that was before the William Rehnquist and John Roberts courts began to chip away at the campaign finance laws that have been periodically adopted since.