McCutcheon v. FEC Is a Substantive Clash, Not a Definitional One

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission – which struck down limits on the aggregate amount any one individual could contribute to multiple candidates during a single electoral cycle – has attracted a great deal of attention.  Indeed, it has already generated so much discussion that I’m not sure I have much to add (particularly given that I’m not a campaign finance expert). But one piece of commentary on the decision caught my eye: on the Wall Street Journal’s blog, Jacob Gershman argues that McCutcheon is not just about the clash over the value of political speech and the effect of money on political integrity, but “at a more basic level” the decision is about “how to define the concept of ‘corruption.’”  Many of my colleagues in the legal academy – several of whom are quoted in Mr. Gershman’s post – agree with that assessment, as does Justice Breyer in his dissenting opinion in McCutcheon.  But I don’t think it’s quite right—or at least it’s only partly right.

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