Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission is the latest in a long parade of horribles, as many commentators have pointed about. Previous decisions like Citizens United vs. FEC and the D.C. Circuit Court's ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC opened the cash spigot for corporate spending in political campaigns and individual contributions to independent-expenditure committees, respectively. Now McCutcheon will allow uber-wealthy individual donors to give nearly 30 times more than before directly to candidates and political parties. It will also likely unleash a new and voracious animal: joint fundraising committees, which will bundle large donations from donors and funnel the cash to various candidates and party committees, in full knowledge of who wrote the original check.
If all these terms are confusing, the bottom line is this: Three decades of campaign-finance reform have been overturned. If these were gun-control laws, it would be a bit like the Supreme Court saying, “Everyone who can afford it can now can have their own nuclear arsenal. Good luck.”
That said, there's a quirky silver lining here. Before this ruling, shadowy independent-expenditure committees had come to dominate U.S. politics because—unlike candidates and parties—they were allowed to receive unlimited amounts of cash from donors. The donations also were made anonymously, a loophole that allowed a lot of so-called “dark money” to flow directly into elections. The most notorious of these became known as super PACs, which Stephen Colbert satirized with his “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” super PAC. In 2012, GOP donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave nearly $100 million in super PAC contributions to defeat Barack Obama and other Democrats. On the left, super PACs like American Bridge 21st Century and Priorities USA Action spent millions to defeat Republicans.