Prior to the McCutcheon decision, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) placed limits on the amount that could be contributed to other PACs, candidates and committees. In addition to contribution limits imposed on how much can be given to each candidate, PAC or committee, the FECA also placed a limit on how much an individual can contribute in aggregate, over a two year period.
In September 2012, Shaun McCutcheon brought a challenge to the law that placed limits on the amount of aggregate biennial contributions an individual can make to candidates and committees. McCutcheon and the RNC contended that aggregate contribution limits are a violation of First Amendment rights. On April 2nd, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of McCutcheon, deciding that aggregate limits are unconstitutional. This ruling does not impact the base contribution limits - the amount an individual may contribute to a specific federal candidate, political party, or political action committee.
Impact on PACs
What does the decision in favor of McCutcheon mean for PACs? Logistically speaking, a change in aggregate individual contribution limits does not have a major impact on corporate or trade association PACs. How much PACs are permitted to give and receive remains the same. The amount an individual is permitted to give to a PAC each year also has not changed however, this may permit some individuals who would like to contribute more than the aggregate limits previously allowed, to be able to give to a larger number of PACs.
Where PACs may be affected is in their ability to influence some campaigns. This decision will inevitably lead to an increase in money from individuals flowing through the campaign finance system. However, individuals are still subject to limits on how much they can contribute directly to each particular candidate and committee - they are now simply able to contribute to a greater number of them. Since PACs are not subject to aggregate limits, the total amount they can contribute to candidates and committees does not change and PACs are not able to contribute to a greater or fewer number of candidates or committees as a result of the ruling. Thus, the ruling does not necessarily change the influence an individual can have on one campaign by contributing directly to a candidate, because those limits have not changed. However, it could allow wealthy individuals to be bigger players in the overall political arena which is not likely to significantly diminish the role of PACs. It may simply change the way the political and campaign finance landscape is viewed.
Sources: www.fec.gov SCOTUS Blog