Hours after a skeptical Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could eliminate one of the remaining campaign finance limits for individuals, President Obama weighed in and warned the justices against allowing an “anything goes” system for campaign cash.
If the court was to strike down more campaign contribution restrictions — they took the first steps down that road in 2010 in the now-famous Citizens United case — Mr. Obama said the American election system would then have “no rules” and would become a global outlier.
“There aren’t a lot of functioning democracies around the world that work this way, where you can basically have millionaires and billionaires bankrolling whoever they want, however they want, in some cases, undisclosed. What it means is ordinary Americans are shut out of the process,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
The Supreme Court must grapple with complex campaign finance rules put in place by Congress — rules that limit how much individuals can contribute to candidates or parties.
Labor unions and corporations, on the other hand, are now free to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, provided they don’t coordinate directly with a candidate or political party.
Critics have suggested the current system is unfair to citizens while allowing labor groups and big businesses to do as they please.
Mr. Obama also suggested that the Citizens United decision has led in part to the current government shutdown and debt-ceiling standoff.
“You have some ideological extremist who has a big bankroll and they can entirely skew our politics. There are a whole bunch of members of Congress who will tell you, ‘I know our positions are unreasonable, but we’re scared that if we don’t along with the tea party agenda, or some particularly extremist agenda, that we’ll be challenged from the right.’ And the threats are very explicit, and so they tow the line,” Mr. Obama said, before turning his attention to the gerrymandering of congressional districts, which is routinely done by both sides to benefit their candidates.
“A big chunk of the Republican party are in gerrymandered districts where there is no competition and those folks are much more worried about a tea party challenger than they are about a general election where they have to compete against a Democrat or go after independent votes. And in that environment, it’s a lot harder for them to compromise,” he said.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.