WASHINGTON -- Who will benefit first from McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission? The Republican Party and the financial industry are already primed to take advantage of the Supreme Court's April 2 ruling.
The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, ended longstanding aggregate limits on campaign contributions, which would have prevented a donor in this election cycle from giving more than $48,600 to federal candidates, more than $74,600 to political parties and PACs, and more than $123,200 overall.
Now, a small class of wealthy donors, including billionaires Sheldon Adelson and David Koch and a host of financial industry titans, stands ready to crash past those limits.
A review of FEC records by The Huffington Post found 190 donors who are approaching or even surpassing the now non-existent aggregate limits for the 2013-2014 election cycle. The vast majority of them heavily favor Republican Party committees and candidates. The financial sector, already the largest funder of federal political campaigns, also stands to gain even more influence, as the plurality of these 190 donors work for banks, hedge funds, investment firms or real estate developers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a frequent critic of both Wall Street and the Supreme Court's deregulation of campaign finance, said that the McCutcheon decision, coupled with the 2010 Citizens United ruling striking down other limits on electoral spending, is pushing America toward rule by the wealthy.
"Right now, this country, in my view, faces a situation in which we are rapidly on the road to oligarchy both economically and politically," Sanders said. "A smaller and smaller number of very wealthy people now have more influence than ever before thanks to Citizens United and McCutcheon."
According to HuffPost's review, the new "McCutcheon donor" class consists of 136 Republican supporters, 49 Democratic supporters and five who have spread their contributions nearly evenly between the two major parties.
Big Money Donors Set To Take Advantage Of McCutcheon Ruling
Source: Federal Election Commission
The Republican National Committee joined the court challenge brought by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, likely thinking that its base of big money donors was ready and eager to give more,. The party's advantage in this donor pool -- and also in the unlimited contributions given to super PACs and "dark money" nonprofits -- has even led RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to call for further court challenges to eliminate all campaign contribution limits.
"I don’t think we should have caps at all," Priebus told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday.
In these post-McCutcheon days, both political parties are already reaching out to their big money donors and offering increased access to elected officials. According to Politico, lawyers are drafting plans to create "super committees" -- super-sized joint fundraising committees, which can accept and distribute a large bundle of checks from a single donor -- and sending informational packets to donors about what they can hope to gain if they give past the McCutcheon line.
The financial sector can be expected to benefit most from this new arrangement. In the "McCutcheon donor" class identified by HuffPost, there are 86 individuals working in the financial sector, 35 operating a miscellaneous array of businesses from chemical production and processing to casinos and hotels, 14 in the energy sector, 12 who are lawyers or lobbyists, and 43 others spread out over multiple sectors including health care, philanthropy, computers and communications, transportation, agriculture and construction.
Financial Sector Dominates 'McCutcheon Donor' Pool
Source: Federal Election Commission
Since 1990, the financial sector has poured $3.4 billion into federal political campaigns, $1 billion of which came in just the last two elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But that wasn't enough for some. One of the McCutcheon class, Chicago-based hedge fund executive Ken Griffin, famously complained during the last election that the wealthy have "insufficient influence" in politics.
Now, without the aggregate limits struck down in McCutcheon, the financial sector can increase its dominance by casting a wider net of donations across Congress. Where even the richest donors used to be restricted to giving a maximum $5,200 donation to nine federal candidates each, they can now give that $5,200 to as many as they please. Or, to put it another way, a single donor can now give the maximum contribution to every member of the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee.
Sanders does not see that encouraging financial sector reforms. "Giving them more political power through McCutcheon would make it harder for us to regulate them," the senator said.
Even now, some of these McCutcheon donors are also auditioning 2016 Republican presidential candidates. The casino oligarch Adelson and hedge fund executive Bruce Kovner both sit on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which recently hosted potential candidates at Adelson's Venetian casino in Las Vegas.
Similarly, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity Foundation is co-hosting the New Hampshire Freedom Summit this weekend to discuss the 2016 election. Featured speakers include such potential GOP presidential candidates as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas). David Koch, chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and co-funder of a massive political network with his brother Charles, is among the list of donors poised to go past the previous aggregate contribution limits.
Aaron Bycoffe contributed reporting.