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Justices eye restriction on individual's overall donation to political campaigns

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 9:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The very wealthy could play a much greater role in funding federal candidates and political parties if the Supreme Court rules that a key campaign finance restriction adopted after Watergate is unconstitutional.

Under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court has junked a number of election spending limits as improper restrictions on political expression — perhaps most dramatically with its 2010 Citizens United decision, which wiped out the ban on corporate election spending.

A bold and broad decision by the court in one of its first cases of the new term, Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, which the justices are to hear on Tuesday, could overturn decades of precedent about the remaining power the government has to limit contributions to candidates and parties.

The current case, brought by Shaun McCutcheon, a businessman from Hoover, Ala., and the Republican National Committee, involves a restriction that many Americans are probably unaware of and even fewer could afford to violate: the limit on the overall amount that one person may give during a two-year election cycle to federal candidates, political parties and committees.

That limit is $123,200, including a $48,600 cap on total candidate contributions. If the court sides with McCutcheon, party leaders could set up a joint fundraising committee with their presidential nominee, congressional candidates and state affiliates to accept nearly $3.7 million from an individual in each election cycle, defenders of the limits say.

“A system in which an individual can provide millions of dollars — potentially in response to direct solicitations from the president and members of Congress — to finance parties and their candidates would substantially replicate the Watergate-era and soft-money systems that resulted in well-documented instances of corruption and apparent corruption,” Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the court in a brief.

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