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Upcoming Supreme Court Case Could Further Upend Campaign Finance Law

Here's the bulletin from the AP: After their landmark decision allowing more corporate money in U.S. politics with Citizens United in 2010, the Supreme Court will hear another campaign finance-related case this term.

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to campaign finance laws limiting how much an individual can give to political campaigns.

The justices on Tuesday decided to hear an appeal from Shaun McCutcheon of Alabama and the Republican National Committee. They are arguing that it's unconstitutional to stop a donor from giving more than $46,200 to political candidates and $70,800 to political committees and PACs.

McCutcheon says he accepts that he can only give $2,500 to a single candidate but says he should be able to give that amount to as many GOP candidates as he wants.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the limits, but the high court decided to review that decision.

We will learn a lot more about this case in the weeks to come. But here are some first impressions on how significant is the campaign finance case granted today.

It's a case challenging the limits on the total amount of contributions a person can make to candidates, party committees and certain PACS. That's as opposed to Citizens United, which involved independent expenditures by corporations.

Read More about the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.

Election law expert Rick Hasen said that with the rise of superPACs , the issue of individual contributions is "less burning" because a person barred from giving $2,600 to a candidate for each congressional office can still currently give unlimited sums to Super PACS or other advocacy groups with special classification under the tax code.

But he added that the McCutcheon case could be important if an eventual ruling makes it easier to challenge contributions limits.

"It is possible in this case, for example, that the conservative five Justices in Citizens United set out a general standard for reviewing contribution limits which makes them harder to sustain against constitutional challenge. In the past, contribution limits were subject to a very complaisant standard of review, very easy to sustain against challenge."

Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 is worried that the court is hearing the case.

"If the Supreme Court reverses its past ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, (the 1976 case that allows individual contribution limits) the Court would do extraordinary damage to the nation's ability to prevent the corruption of federal officeholders and government decisions," he said. "It would also represent the first time in history that the Court declared a federal contribution limit unconstitutional."

"Absent the aggregate overall limit on contributions by an individual, President Obama, House Speaker Boehner or any other federal officeholder or candidate would be free to solicit, and an individual free to contribute, a single check to a national party of $1,194,000 for a two-year election cycle. [1]

"The national party in turn could spend the entire million dollar-plus donation to support the officeholder who solicited the donation from the contributor."

Read More: 24 Supreme Court Cases Every Candidate Should Know

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