Local politicians differed greatly on the impact of a Supreme Court ruling Wednesday that strikes down federal limits on overall contributions donors can make to political campaigns.
The justices said in a 5-4 ruling that Americans have a right to give the legal maximum to candidates for Congress and president, as well as to parties and political action committees, without worrying that they will violate the law when they bump up against a limit on all contributions, set at $123,200 for 2013 and 2014. That includes a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates.
Bill Hughes Jr., who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, for his seat this fall, said he believes the decision to be a big step in the wrong direction.
“This is one step closer to eliminating any caps on campaign contributions,” he said. “This is a terrible blow to removing the influence of money in politics.”
In addition to eliminating the aggregate cap on campaign contributions, the ruling requires disclosure of contributions, which has garnered support from both sides of the aisle.
In a statement, LoBiondo praised the court’s push for transparency.
“I’ve long believed all donations to political campaigns and parties, regardless of amount, should be under greater public disclosure and be subjected to the same FEC requirements,” he said. “Such public reporting only strengthens our democracy.”
LoBiondo’s statement did not touch on the elimination of the aggregate cap.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called the Supreme Court decision “an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse.”
Big donors already can spend unlimited amounts on attack ads through so-called Super PACS and nonprofits that have played an increasingly important role in campaigns. Wednesday’s ruling does not undermine limits on individual contributions to candidates for president or Congress, now $2,600 per election.
The effects of the ruling apply only at the federal level, and New Jersey does not currently have an aggregate contribution limit. In New Jersey, individual donors can contribute a maximum of $3,800 to a gubernatorial campaign in each of the primary and general elections and can contribute a maximum of $3,800 to legislative candidates in the general election. Donations are capped at $2,600 for candidates for other offices. Contributions from political action committees to candidates seeking any office are limited to $8,200 per election.
Hughes singled out the opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas, who advocated for completely wiping away all contribution limits, as particularly troubling.
Congress enacted limits in the wake of Watergate-era abuses to discourage big contributors from trying to buy votes with their donations and to restore public confidence in the campaign finance system. But in a series of rulings in recent years, the Supreme Court court has struck down provisions of federal law aimed at limiting the influence of big donors as unconstitutional curbs on free speech.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said that while he understands the court’s reasoning that these limits infringe on First Amendment rights, the ruling will have a detrimental effect on elections.
“Unlimited spending of money does not equal free speech in my mind, just as a corporation does not represent the freedom of an individual,” he said. “I understand the rationale behind it, but I think the overall net effect will not be good.”
The William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College, a political think tank named for Hughes’ father but not affiliated with his campaign, issued a statement saying the decision “allows even more money in a political system awash in dollars and influence peddling,” and condemns it as allowing monied interests further sway in politics.
“This ruling rewards the interest groups and individuals who already dominate Washington, advocating agendas that push apart the American electorate, and tempting candidates and elected officials,” the statement reads.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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