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Originally published Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 4:03 PM

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Editorial: McCutcheon decision unravels campaign finance regulation

The U.S. Supreme Court had a chance to rein in campaign finance spending. Instead, five justices just handed the keys to political power to the few who can afford it.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE U.S. Supreme Court just armed the nation's wealthiest individuals with yet another weapon to influence elections and increase access to politicians.

Last week’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling gives the wealthy contributors a new channel through which to funnel their agendas. People such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, investor George Soros and the industrialist Koch brothers will be able to spread their money among as many federal campaigns as they please.

Before this decision, individuals were limited to giving up to $123,200 to candidates and national party committees, or up to 18 federal campaigns (if donating the maximum amount to each campaign), per election cycle.

The court did not do away with contribution amounts, but it did get rid of overall limits, arguing that such caps violate a constitutional guarantee of free speech.

As a result, the rich will have a much louder voice than ever; the poor and middle class will not.

Remember why these limits exist in the first place. The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 was a response to the Watergate scandal.

Time and again, history has proved that money and politics breeds bad behavior.

Stunningly, Chief Justice John Roberts rejected warnings that unlimited contributions would lead to corruption. He essentially argued that the system is set up to root out “quid pro quo” situations.

So anything less than outright bribery is now fair game.

Without contribution limits, party leaders and political fundraising committees are about to join forces to become more powerful than ever.

Even worse, the high court’s McCutcheon decision and its earlier Citizens United ruling both signal the judicial branch might continue to chip away at campaign-finance laws in the future.

Voters, look out.

Increasingly, political leaders won’t be protecting your interests. Instead, they will be listening to those who control the purse strings — donors who can help keep them in power.

The Sunlight Foundation, which is devoted to open government, has long analyzed contributions to federal campaigns. Its researchers have found that “pragmatic donors” who give to candidates of both parties are rare. The nation’s top 1,000 donors are usually partisan. In the 2012 election, two-thirds gave primarily to GOP candidates and super political action committees (PACs). More than one-third represent the financial sector.

With deeper pockets than most Americans, wealthy donors will expect their interests to be championed by members of Congress, democracy be damned.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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