Donald Trump does something shocking every day, but during the first debate of the Republican presidential primary he did something shocking in a good way: He was honest about how big money politics works. Here’s what he said:
Before this, before two months ago, I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what? When I need something from them, two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me. And that’s a broken system.
Trump later went on many similarly thrilling rants; it was a big part of what first distinguished him from the GOP pack. And his critique of a system rigged for the rich helped make him president.
But that was then, and this is now. The appointment of Trump’s choice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court would take the broken campaign finance system and, rather than fixing it, potentially smash it with a sledgehammer.
There are not a whole lot of restrictions left on the power of money in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which struck down any limits on spending by individuals, corporations or unions advocating for a candidate – as long as it’s purportedly “independent” and not directly coordinated with the candidate’s campaign.
But individuals are still barred from giving more than $5,400 directly to any one political campaign, and corporations, unions and foreign nationals are barred from making any donations at all directly to candidates for federal office.
Overturning Citizens United is a central goal of campaign finance reformers and it’s impossible to imagine that Gorsuch would ever do that or in any way green light restrictions on money in politics.
But beyond that, his record suggest he could quite possibly vote for the final removal of all limits for anyone.
To understand why, you have to go back in time 40 years to a 1976 Supreme Court ruling in a case called Buckley v. Valeo.
The Buckley decision declared that the then-existing limits on political fundraising and spending implicate “core First Amendment rights.” Under well-established precedent, courts apply one of three standards when examining infringements on constitutional rights: “strict scrutiny,” “intermediate scrutiny” and “rational basis review,” depending on how significant the court determines the infringement to be. The greatest infringements require strict scrutiny.
In Buckley, the Court decided limits on expenditures require strict scrutiny and struck them down. But the Court also found that contribution limits weren’t as much of an infringement on constitutional rights, and…