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RNC Chairman: Bring Back The Gilded Age

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WASHINGTON -- Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is now looking to overturn all campaign finance limits and maybe get rid of disclosure rules following the Supreme Court McCutcheon ruling that eliminated aggregate campaign contribution limits.

"I don’t think we should have caps at all," Priebus said on conservative Hugh Hewitt's radio talk show on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

The RNC joined the Supreme Court case brought by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon that knocked down the aggregate limits that previously limited donors to a maximum of $123,200 in one election cycle. The 5-4 Supreme Court vote upheld base contribution limits preventing a donor from giving more than $5,200 per election to a candidate and $32,400 per election to a party committee.

The McCutcheon decision, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, signaled that the court is willing to go further in scaling back campaign finance rules established in the 1970s and expanded in the 2002 McCain-Feingold reform law. The court has viewed both the appearance and existence of corruption as the only reason to limit campaign fundraising, but in the McCutcheon decision, Roberts narrowed the definition of corruption to outright bribery.

Priebus' remarks indicate that the Republican Party is paying attention to Roberts' signals and wants to help chop down the remaining rules limiting the flow of money into political campaigns.

Answering a question of whether the RNC would join a challenge to other campaign finance limits, Priebus said, "Absolutely, I would. And I would look to cases that allow us to raise soft money, and I would look to cases that allow us to raise money for the conventions, and -- but disclose it all. That's kind of where I'm at personally."

Soft money is the unlimited sums that party committees used to be able to raise from corporations, unions or individuals to pay for administrative expenses, but that ultimately financed attack advertisements masquerading as issue ads. The McCain-Feingold law banned party committees from accepting soft money and banned political candidates from soliciting unlimited contributions.

Since the court's ruling upholding the soft money ban relied on a definition of corruption that included influence and access, Roberts' McCutcheon ruling likely tees up the elimination of the ban on accepting soft money. (The ban on solicitation of unlimited contributions, however, is unclear.) Roberts' definition of corruption and his narrowing of the appearance of corruption as a justification for limits provide a path to Priebus' goal of eliminating all campaign finance laws.

Priebus initially said in the interview that disclosure should remain. But he later raised questions about this. Priebus argued disclosure can be used to intimidate and target people for their views, citing the case of Brendan Eich, recently fired as CEO of Mozilla for making a $1,000 contribution to the campaign for an anti-gay marriage measure in 2008.

"So I mean, even [campaign finance rules] that I want to agree with are getting to be very difficult," Priebus said.

This wildly unpopular argument may be more difficult to make before the current Supreme Court. In both the Citizens United and McCutcheon rulings, the court strongly endorsed campaign finance disclosure, and has consistently knocked down challenges to disclosure laws.

In the 2010 Doe v. Reed case, the court decided 8-1 that it was well within the public interest and the government's right to require disclosure of signatories to a petition to get a Washington state initiative on the ballot, rather than those signatures being hidden from the public record.

Justice Antonin Scalia excoriated disclosure opponents in his Doe v. Reed concurrence. "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed," Scalia wrote. "For my part, I do not look forward to a society which, thanks to the Supreme Court, campaigns anonymously (McIntyre) and even exercises the direct democracy of initiative and referendum hidden from public scrutiny and protected from the accountability of criticism. This does not resemble the Home of the Brave."

Justice Clarence Thomas was the one dissenting justice back then raising fears that gay marriage opponents could face harassment, intimidation or even loss of their job due to their opinions as expressed by these contributions. This year, Thomas wrote a concurrence in the McCutcheon case calling for the end of all campaign finance regulation.

CORRECTION: The original article misstated the year of the McCain-Feingold reform law of 2002. Additionally, in the 2010 Doe v. Reed case, the court decided that it was within the public interest and the government's right to require disclosure of signatories to a petition for a Washington state ballot initiative, rather than donors to the ballot initiative.

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