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WYPR's Senior News Analyst opines on recent Maryland news.

Justices' Lack Of Campaign Experience Shows

Tom Chalkley

A student of the law and a member of the House of Delegates for more than 30 years says the Supreme Court has once again brushed aside the judgment of state legislators.

“They have a disdain for legislatures and a naiveté about money in politics,” says Del. Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore.  The court’s recent decision lifting limits on aggregate contributions suggests a cramped view of their decision’s significance. 

Rosenberg imagines that the quid pro quo or pay- to-play potential was their only concern. The court seemed to have no recognition that big money might distort the political landscape in other ways: seriously advantaging one candidate over another

In the past, other Courts held that controls were appropriate if there was a strong public interest at stake:  preserving the democracy, for example, by allowing even the under-funded to compete. Now, the court holds that free speech trumps those concerns.

To the consternation of some, the high court’s recent decision did not remove limits on contributions made directly to a candidate. Maybe, Del. Rosenberg suggested, the question of individual contributions was not precisely in front of them. 

The court’s decision in the McCutcheon case  might have been more grounded in real life if more of the justices had more familiarity with legislatures and campaigning. Justice Stephen Breyer, who worked for the late Senator Ted Kennedy, was the only justice with on-the-ground political experience, Rosenberg observed.

This observation is not actually new. Campaign observers have realized forever that in the real world money means votes. You don’t give to candidates who don’t speak  for you.

In Maryland, various analysts say, the ruling could make Republicans and others more competitive. Probably, though, that will be true only if the mega-givers think Republicans and others have any real hope of victory in this heavily Democratic state.

What other impact the decision will have here could be known as early as this election year.