For all of the focus placed on how the Republican National Committee is improving its data tools and reaching out to voters, the most significant recent decisions that will help improve Republican electoral prospects are probably the ones made a few blocks away at the Supreme Court. Wednesday's SCOTUS decision in favor of increased campaign spending by the wealthy was not unexpected. But it certainly cements what the Huffington Post's Sam Stein succinctly described as the legacy of Chief Justice John Roberts: "expanding donor rights and allowing for limits on voter rights."
A greater ability of donors to give to candidates and fund campaigns; a scaling back of protections for minority voters in the South. Both of those changes, crafted over a number of court decisions, favor Republican candidates.
This discussion has to start with Citizens United. When the case was decided in 2010, it was predicted that its dismantling of restrictions on campaign spending would mean that more corporations would start investing in advocacy for candidates, which would boost the GOP. In 2012, the first national cycle in which it really played a role, outside spending was at record highs, as Open Secrets documents, but most corporations decided not to engage publicly in campaign efforts, perhaps wary of the perception.
Some corporate entities didn't worry about the perception, like the Koch brothers. But the Kochs also took advantage of Citizens United to create a series of structures that allowed them — and other donors — to obscure where money was coming from and where it was going. Other corporations certainly took advantage of similar structures. And while the biggest spender in the high-turnout, Democrat-friendly 2012 election was Barack Obama, House and Senate races saw "more money … spent during the general election by outside groups than by the candidates themselves," according to Open Secrets.
Wednesday's decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, removes the overall cap an individual can spend in an election cycle — which, as Roberts pointed out in his opinion, became irrelevant after Citizens United anyway. Since rich people could give without limits to independent groups to spend on elections, why not let them give as much money to candidates as they want, too? (An important note: McCutcheon didn't lift the limit on how much could be given to a candidate. It lifted the limit on how much a donor could give in a cycle.)
In short, then, any American can give as much money as he wants to whatever candidates he wants or start his own campaign system and spend as much money through that on whatever candidates he wants. Fair, simple, democratic. However. The people who will do that sort of by definition have more money to spend. And people with more money are more likely to back Republicans. Ergo, this probably means more money for Republican candidates.
Then there's the voter restrictions thing. Last summer, the court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a Civil Rights-era policy meant to assure that states with a track record of discriminating against blacks didn't use the ballot box to do so. It was meant to eliminate the egregious practices of the Jim Crow era, like the convoluted and difficult voting test Louisiana gave voters in its state. By removing a key part of the Voting Rights Act, the court essentially freed those states to implement whatever voter rules they wanted.
Texas, which brought the case to the Supreme Court, wasted no time implementing its new voter ID rules, which almost certainly will reduce the number of Latino and black voters in the state. North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia all moved forward on plans to limit new voters. It's a national trend, as The New York Times reported over the weekend, not one solely confined to those states. (In part that's probably because most of the states affected by the Voting Rights Act were already solidly Republican anyway.) Few states will have qualms about enacting rigorous voter restrictions — restrictions almost always passed by Republican legislatures and which almost always cut back on the number of Democratic voters — knowing that the Supreme Court appears not to be concerned about the practice.
Legal DNA is not destiny. Just because the Roberts Court has made donations and voter restrictions easier does not mean that Republicans will necessarily do better in future elections. Again, Citizens United didn't sway 2012 for Republicans.
After the special election in Florida last month, Americans for Prosperity wasted no time trumpeting their data tools and advertising push backing the winner, a Republican. AFP, backed by the Kochs, didn't exist in 2009. And in non-presidential-election years, with low turnout and low interest, a flood of money and expertise can make a bigger difference, as can rules that limit the number of black Democrats that can make it to the polls.
In other words: keep an eye on November. It could be the first test of how much John Roberts and the conservative justices that joined his decisions have done for the Republican Party.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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