How our nation’s founding fathers would feel about Tumblr is as impossible for the Supreme Court to know as how James Madison would have felt about violent video games. But fortunately there’s a new Tumblr blog available to help the justices understand how the framers of the Constitution felt about “corruption” in politics.
The blog, created by Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, examines all the writings of the founding fathers’ and aggregates every mention of “corruption” to get an overview of their opinion. The answer could prove important to the court’s ultimate ruling in the latest post-Citizens United challenge to campaign finance laws.
The Supreme Court, in its controversial Citizens United decision, ruled that corporations have the right to spend without limit on ads and other political activity to support a particular candidate or party. The result was $1.5 billion in outside spending during the 2012 presidential election.
But the court could take this one step further in a new case, casting aside a key limit on direct contributions to candidates and allowing individual high-dollar donors to play an extraordinarily outsized role in elections by giving multimillion-dollar contributions directly to campaigns. This would mark the first time the Supreme Court declared a federal contribution limit unconstitutional, and make it even harder for most Americans to be heard by their elected officials.
The Supreme Court, on the second day of its new term in October, is due to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that challenges the overall limit — $123,000 — that one person can give over a two-year election cycle. The challengers’ argument is that, as long as the $2,600 cap on donations to a single candidate’s campaign is in place, there is no constitutional rationale for limiting the total amount: each candidate will still receive only $2,600, so there is no greater risk of corruption simply because one donor can now contribute to many more candidates.