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SHAPIRO: Lifting campaign donations limit could encourage transparency

- - Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Supreme Court's decision to remove the overall limit of how many candidates an individual can contribute to during an election cycle is sure to spark some heated debate during a mid-term election year.

But it also may create more transparency about the candidates and causes wealthy philanthropists are opening their checkbooks to.

Critics of the decision, like Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., believe that striking down the law means "the risk for corruption is very real," and in his dissent, Justice Breyer agreed, saying: "It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidates campaign."

Many of the decision's critics are equally critical of the 2009 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that allows special interest groups the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on issue-related advertisements.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts' majority opinion relied mostly on the First Amendment, arguing that political contributions, as speech, cannot be any more offensive than "flag burning, funeral protests and Nazi parades despite popular opposition."

But he also made the more important point that the government failed to show the boundaries of where financial donations cross over into corruption. Since corruption is really the issue at the heart of campaign contribution laws, it would seem that such a point is of paramount importance.

After all, it is possible that it is precisely because of donation limits that those contributions from millionaires and billionaires like George Soros and Sheldon Adelson have become challenging and over-burdensome to track, making it more difficult for the media and the public to know what candidates and causes their money is ultimately funding.

With fewer restrictions to donate, the wealthy can now make more direct donations, which should create more transparency about the candidates they support.