If the Supreme Court strikes down the biennial limit on the amount an individual can contribute to all federal candidates, political parties and PACs, the most immediate effect may be to expand the role of Joint Fundraising Committees (JFCs) in campaign finance.
JFC’s allow candidates, party committees and PACs to join together for fundraising events or programs. One advantage is that donors may give a JFC up to the combined total limits of all participating committees, which the JFC divides up and transfers to its participating members. This can take the form of a powerful or popular member forming a JFC with a less well known member and/or a leadership PAC, a national party committee and sometimes the federal account of a state party committee. Using a JFC, a Member or candidate is no longer limited to asking a donor for a contribution of $5,200 ($2,600 for the candidate’s primary election and $2,600 for the general election). He or she can now ask for $47,800 ($5,200 for the leader’s campaign, $5,200 for the less popular member’s campaign, $5,000 for the leader’s leadership PAC and $32,400 for a national party committee) or more. Another advantage JFC’s have over entities like Super PACs is that a Member can solicit the contribution directly, consistent with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, because all the money solicited is “hard money” (i.e., from permissible sources and within the contribution limits).
The presence of the biennial limits present a real constraint on this sort of fundraising. No individual can give more than $123,200 in a two-year election cycle to all federal candidates, party committees and PACs. More challenging for some than the overall limit, the statute provides sublimits: no more than $48,600 may be given to all candidates; no more than $74,600 to all party committees and PACs (of that $74,600, no more than $48,600 can go to state party committees and PACs). For example, a $48,600 limit means an individual can give the maximum contribution ($2,600 for the primary and general) to no more than nine candidates in a two year period. While $123,200 is well beyond the budget for the overwhelming majority of Americans, the Center for Public Integrity compiled a list of over 800 individuals who it claimed might have exceeded either the overall limit or one of the sublimits last cycle. While the data had flaws, it gives a sense that the biennial limits present a real constraint for a not insignificant number of donors.
If the biennial limits are struck down, the leadership of the two parties could create Super JFC’s, capable of accepting significantly larger contributions. If a party leader wanted to set up a JFC to protect the twenty most vulnerable incumbents or fund the twenty most likely challengers, when paired with a contribution to a national party committee, that leader could ask donors for $136,400. If a contribution to the state party committees in each vulnerable state were added, the figure grows to nearly $350,000. A Super JFC of all state parties could accept $500,000 contributions.
The question then becomes what the market will bear, rather than what the law allows. Party leaders, committee chairs and those elected officials with a nationwide fundraising base of wealthy donors will have the ability to use that network to grow in prominence in 2014 and 2016. While McCutcheon is certain to have may consequences, the potential of ushering in an era of Super JFCs is certainly among them.