By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Well-heeled Massachusetts political donors will be free to spread their wealth among as many candidates as they wish for state and federal office this year.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down aggregate federal campaign-contribution limits, a ruling that state regulators said would extend to state limits as well.
The decision, heralded as the most significant campaign-finance court ruling since the Citizens United decision, touched off a swift rebuke from some members of Congress and from campaign-reform advocates who have been fighting to limit the impact of money on politics.
Congressman Joe Kennedy III said Congress should act immediately to address the court ruling's "damage."
The change, however, could steer money away from so-called Super PACs that popped up after the Citizens United decision and toward individual candidates and party organizations, a shift that would increase transparency around political giving, according to one expert.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that aggregate limits on political donations violated the constitutional right to free speech. The ruling eliminated the $48,600 cap on contributions by individuals every two years to candidates for federal office, as well as a separate aggregate cap of $74,600 to political-party committees.
Individual contribution limits to any one candidate or party were left unchanged by the ruling.
"We're still reviewing it to determine what it means for Massachusetts. It's safe to say, however, the $12,500 aggregate limit is gone," said Jason Tait, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
While the state's $500 annual contribution limit to any one candidate would not be changed by the ruling, Tait said donors would be free to make maximum contributions to more than just 25 candidates as imposed under the current cap.
Tait said lawyers for OCPF are reviewing and have not yet determined whether the $5,000 aggregate state contribution limit to political parties and city and town party organizations would also be negated by the ruling. If it does apply, donors could be freed to donate up to $5,000 to multiple local and state political party organizations.
Common Cause Massachusetts, one of the leading voices for campaign-finance reform in Massachusetts, criticized the decision as one that would open the floodgates for money and donors to exert influence on state and national politics.
"This decision will dramatically increase the corrupting influence of big money, here in Massachusetts and across the country," said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. "Each member of our congressional delegation and every candidate for Congress will now be able to solicit multimillion-dollar gifts from ultra-wealthy donors. Common sense tells us that folks who can give that kind of money are going to want something in return."
Campaign-reform advocates planned a rally on the steps of the Statehouse on Wednesday afternoon to protest the decision, one of at least 100 events planned around the country in response to the Supreme Court ruling.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton; Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord; MASSPIRG Executive Director Janet Domenitz and representatives from the Massachusetts Sierra Club, MassVOTE, and Move to Amend were expected to attend.