By Rich Robinson
What is the practical significance of the Supreme Court's decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission?
A whole new class of weapon, the McCutcheon joint fundraising committee (JFC), has been created for the American political war of mutually assured destruction.
Joint fundraising committees are not new. Mostly we've seen them used in connection with presidential campaigns. In 2012 the candidates would hold a fundraiser where invited guests of means would give $5,000 to the candidate's campaign committee and $30,800 to the party's national committee - a tidy bundle of $35,800 from each guest.
The recent decision by the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC gives joint fundraising committees a whole new range of possibilities. With aggregate limits for individual contributions to candidates, party committees and PACs banished to the past, JFCs can now raise millions of dollars from an individual donor for an infinite number of federal PACs, in addition to millions more for federal candidates and party committees. If the newly liberated mega-donor has family or friends who are peers, their collective influence-buying is a function of the number of participants in their donors' club.
The DeVos family of west Michigan presents an easy hypothetical example of how a new McCutcheon JFC could work. The DeVoses are donors without peer in Michigan politics. Rich and Helen DeVos, their four adult children and their three sons' wives have given tens of millions of dollars to political committees over the years. The DeVoses are ideally suited by wealth to redeem the possibilities of a new McCucheon JFC.
Suppose the DeVoses' congressman, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, set up a joint fundraising committee called the Amash JFC to help his party and his fellow Republican candidates for Congress. His ask to each of the nine DeVoses for year one of an election cycle could look like this:
• Candidates: $2,433,600 ($5,200/each, 435 House candidates and 33 Senate candidates)
• Party committees: $597,200 ($32,400/each, 3 federal committees; $10,000/each, 50 state committees' federal accounts)
• Leadership PACs: $1,390,000 ($5,000/each, 233 House Members and 45 Senate Members)
And just look at how that adds up:
• Individual Year One Total: $4,420,800 (Candidates, Parties, Leadership PACs)
• Individual Year Two Total: $1,987,200 (Parties, Leadership PACs only)
• Individual Two-year Total: $6,408,000
• Family Year One Total: $39,787,200
• Family Year Two Total: $17,884,800
• Family Two-year Total: $57,672,000
This would allow Rep. Amash to bring $91,800 ($46,800 for the candidate committee, $45,000 for the leadership PAC) to every Member of the House and Senate, with the possibility of another $45,000 for each Member's leadership PAC the following year.
The leadership PAC contributions could have a particular appeal because the Federal Election Commission does not prohibit personal use of funds in a leadership PAC. While Congress's ethics rules could present a theoretical challenge to that conversion, they are loosely enforced and they do not apply to former or retired Members. Contributions to a leadership PAC could become a retirement nest-egg.
Is this hypothetical example extreme? Absolutely, it was meant to illustrate the extreme possibilities of a McCutcheon JFC. Is it implausible? Not at all. Remember, we're now supposed to believe that an individual spending $100 million on politics is just one big celebration of the First Amendment - not corruption.
And don't forget, a donor who wants even more leverage could direct another $5,000 per year to thousands more PACs through just one check to any McCutcheon JFC. The possibilities are infinite.
The possibilities for reciprocity are infinite too. Not quid pro quo - vote-buying - possibilities. We're talking about access, consideration and leverage possibilities. Terms of the understanding never need to be discussed explicitly.
That's what Chief Justice John Roberts didn't seem to understand when he said that only overt vote-buying can be regulated. To Roberts, all else is simple gratitude. It's a ruling beyond the comprehension of most Americans.