Mitch McConnell to Argue Free Speech Case Before Supreme Court

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Monday, 07 Oct 2013 06:34 AM

By Elliot Jager

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It's not every day a U.S. senator pleads his case before the Supreme Court, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader from Kentucky, is scheduled to do just that for ten minutes Tuesday morning.

In asking for the right to address the court in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, McConnell described himself, according to Roll Call, as "the Senate's most passionate defender of the First Amendment guarantee of unrestricted political speech."

On August 30 the court granted McConnell "leave" to participate in oral argument as amicus curiae – a friend of the court who is not a direct party to the lawsuit.

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The issue before the court, as Albert Hunt of Bloomberg wrote, is whether to remove the limit on the aggregate amount a single contributor can donate directly to candidates and parties in a federal election. There is no limit on how much political action committees can contribute.

So far the court has distinguished between types of contributors ostensibly to block individuals from overtly buying political favors. Under current law, a citizen can contribute up to $48,600 to all federal candidates combined during an election cycle.

In two recent cases the court has lifted the ceiling on the amount of personal money a wealthy candidate may spend on their own campaign, and permitted corporations and unions to sponsor broadcast advertisements mentioning a candidate. The court said such expenditures were a form of constitutionally protected free speech.

If the court takes the senator's pleadings to heart it would essentially reverse the precedent it established in Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 decision upholding federal limits on campaign contributions.

A court victory could also be good political news for McConnell who is up for reelection in November 2014 and must overcome a challenge for the Republican nomination from the Tea Party's Matt Bevin.

McConnell has reason for optimism. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has been generally unsympathetic to campaign finance limits in the half-dozen cases decided up to now, The New York Times reported.

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