Amid the flurry of activity at the Supreme Court this week as it prepared to recess for the summer came a decision that dealt a blow to the GOP—as well as to the corporate interests and advocacy groups likely to funnel money into the party. The Court declined on Tuesday to hear a challenge to Republican National Committee vs. Federal Election Commission, which upheld a ban on unlimited “soft money” contributions to political parties for purposes other than backing federal elections.
The RNC, along with other affiliated Republican groups, wanted to be able to use such funds to back redistricting—the redrawing of congressional districts that happens every decade—as well as state elections and grassroots advocacy. The decision to dismiss the case marked a victory for campaign finance reform advocates, who feared that RNC vs. FEC could create yet another opportunity for unfettered corporate and interest group spending in the wake of Citizens United—one that would allow groups to funnel money into the national parties directly, rather than having to attach their names to independent efforts or go through third-party organizations. (And if the DISCLOSE Act, which passed the House last week, fails to pass the Senate, no third-party group would have to reveal its donor list for federal campaign expenditures either.)
One campaign finance attorney who opposed the dismissal claimed the soft money ban “neuters the parties and puts them in a weaker position, when compared to the unions and other outside spenders.” Corporations and interest groups sympathetic to the GOP will continue to have the same opportunity as Democrat-friendly unions to spend money on independent political efforts. But, unlike unions, which tend to be open about their political advocacy, corporations are more reluctant to spearhead their own independent spending efforts, concerned about how such political escapades might reflect upon their brand.
Reluctant to engage in open political advocacy on their own, corporations have yet to take full advantage of the campaign finance free-for-all ushered in by Citizens United—instead funneling their money to third-party trade associations like the Chamber of Commerce. If the ban under RNC vs. FEC were overturned, corporations and interest groups wouldn’t even have to resort to the third-party route; they could just go straight to the parties they wanted to influence. As a result, both the GOP and Democratic Parties would have become that much more vulnerable to having their agendas shaped by such deep-pocketed outside interests. The Supreme Court has declined to give them that opportunity.