Progressives across the country were preparing a series of protests against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today (April 2) striking down in federal law the limits on overall contributions that the biggest of individual donors can make to candidates, parties and PACs.
More than 100 events were expected to take place following the morning announcement from Washington, according to Public Citizen, a progressive national watchdog group.
The ruling builds on the High Court decision in 2010, Citizens United, that cleared the way for corporations to invest in political campaigns.
The ruling today was 5-4 — a predicted split between conservatives and liberals — with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Court said the wealthiest contributors in American politics can invest millions into candidate and party coffers. Roberts wrote that the aggregate limits “intrude without justification on a citizen's ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities;’”
The ruling did not remove limits on individual contributions to a candidate for president or Congress, which currently is $2,600 per election. But Justice Clarence Thomas, who voted with the majority, said in a separate writing that he would have removed all limits on campaign contributions.
In the dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the Court’s majority had "eviscerated our nation's campaign finance laws.”
The case began with a complaint from wealthy Alabama Republican Shaun McCutcheon, who challenged the overall limits imposed on his contributions in a two-year federal election cycle.
Protesters today were planning to rally in Albany, N.Y., under a banner that proclaimed “Big Democracy Is Not For Sale.”
Rallies also were being organized in Washington, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Tampa, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver.
There also was criticism from the business community. The American Sustainable Business Council, which represents more than 200,000 businesses, said: "The American Sustainable Business Council is deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC. Responsible business owners do not want more money in politics. They are concerned that excessive spending on elections will continue to tilt the political debate in favor of dominant, legacy industries, which support damaging and unsustainable economic, social, and environmental policies."
At the AFL-CIO, president Richard Trumka called the ruling "one of the most undemocratic and corrosive decisions in history."
Trumka said, "By striking down individual aggregate limits on First Amendment grounds, the Court has further tilted our political system in favor of corporations and the wealthy and against working people. Our founding fathers did not intend for our electoral process to be the facade for political auctions."
In regional reaction, Lisa Subeck of United Wisconsin said the McCutcheon ruling "moves us another step closer to the outright legalization of bribery by allowing the wealthiest donors to pour unlimited amounts of money into the campaign coffers of our elected officials.
"Aggregate campaign finance limits provide a crucial safeguard against the corruption that too often plagues our political system. With today's ruling, how can the public trust that our decision makers, and the policies they set, are not simply for sale to the highest bidder?"
The same morning that the Supreme Court issued its ruling in McCutcheon, Wisconsinites learned that 13 communities in the state had voted in favor of overturning the 2010 Citizens United ruling.
Non-binding referendums in support of a federal constitutional amendment on the issue were approved by voters in Waukesha, Wauwatosa, Elkhorn, Delavan, Lake Mills, Edgerton, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Waukakee, Belleville, DeForest, Windsor and Waterloo.
More than 40 communities in Wisconsin have backed overturning Citizens.
Subeck said the victories on April 1 "send a clear message to our elected officials in Madison and in Washington that we demand action to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy."