Shaun McCutcheon's attorney wants more money in politics

04/28/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: McCutcheon, FEC, Dan Backer, Citizens United, money in politics


Dan Backer represented Shaun McCutcheon in the latest in campaign finance Supreme Court rulings.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Critics of loose campaign finance laws are reeling after a decision earlier this month that will allow wealthy individuals to throw even more money into political campaigns and parties. The McCutcheon verses FEC ruling removes caps on individual contributions directly to candidates and their parties. Washington attorney Dan Backer is the guy to thank.

“The only purpose it served was to benefit incumbents, keep marginal dollars out of the most transparent part of the political system and to make it harder to raise funds in order to promote speech. Also, it protected lobbyists and I think everyone is happy lobbyists are getting soaked for more money.”

He’s referring to the campaign contribution limits that existed before Backer won the lawsuit filed by wealthy coal magnate Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Convention. Then, individuals could only give a combined $123,000 to candidates and parties every two years. Critics worry this furthers the divide between working and middle class Americans who can’t afford to give much to political causes they support if any at all. But Backer, who spoke during an honors symposium at the University of Tampa Monday, says the real voice comes at the ballot box where wealth doesn’t matter.

“Because I think more money means more ideas, more discourse, more debate, more discussion and more information for voters to ultimately make that independent decision when they go and vote.”

That those ideas could be pedaled by special interests with massive buying power doesn’t concern Backer.

“If you believe that – that money is inherently corrupting – than we need to ban all campaign contributions because the vast majority of Americans just don’t contribute at all. I think we have to accept that money is an expressive act and that some people will be more expressive than others.”

The broader issue boils down to the 2010 Citizens United decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that campaign expenditures are a form of free speech. That paved the way for Super PACs that can rake in unlimited funds from deep pocketed corporations and billionaires. The McCutcheon ruling just extends the removal on caps to contributions directly to candidates and their parties. Backer rejects his opposition’s logic that the deregulation of campaign finance disproportionately benefits the wealthy.

“And so, the only option is – by the way I do not believe this is a good solution – but the only other functional alternative is, if everyone has a $2600 contribution limit than the government should just underwrite everybody’s contributions, but that’s insane.”

Why is that insane? Backer says that would force people like him, a staunch Tea Partier, to use their tax dollars to support ideals they don’t buy into. And he firmly believes that these deep pockets are doing voters a service by providing more information.

“The liberal, democratic status position is that you, voter, are too damn stupid to make a good decision because if you were smart enough you would be voting for us and since you’re not, we know you’re dumb and we need to protect you from this speech that clearly you’re too stupid to know is bad for you to make sure you vote our way.”

There were about 30 University of Tampa students and a handful of faculty at the symposium. Several pressed Backer about what they see as undue influence over campaigns by the wealthiest contributors.

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