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In the stirring conclusion to his plurality opinion in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, Chief Justice Roberts pointed to the close connection between campaign contributions and what he called the "political responsiveness at the heart of the democratic process." Quoting Edmund Burke's statement in his famous Speech to the Electors of Bristol that a representative's judgment should be informed by "the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents," the Chief Justice eloquently declaimed that "[c]onstituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and responsive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the concept of self-governance."

The Chief Justice's emphasis on protecting the representative-constituent relationship was more than a bit jarring, however, as McCutcheon addressed the desire of an individual to contribute to candidates in states and congressional districts in which he was not a constituent. At issue in McCutcheon were the aggregate contribution limits the Federal Election Campaign Act ("FECA") imposes on individual campaign contributions. FECA caps not only the amount of money an individual may donate to a specific candidate in an election – the so-called "base limit" – but also the aggregate amount an individual may donate to all federal candidates, political parties, and political committees that donate to federal candidates in an election cycle. Under the overall cap, FECA also specifically limits the aggregate amount an individual may donate just to federal candidates in that cycle. A direct consequence of the aggregate cap is to limit the number of candidates a donor may support and, thus, the number of different election campaigns in which the donor may participate financially.


Constitutional Law | Law and Politics