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A Few Data Points on the Supreme Court’s Donor-Limit Decision

The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down biennial aggregate campaign contribution limits. For 2014, the overall limit was $123,200. There was a lower limit of $74,600 for donations to PACs and party committees (of which no more than $48,600 could be given to a nonnational party committee). And donors could give, at most, $48,600 to all candidates. At this point, the court hasn’t touched the limits to individual candidates. So, what’s the impact of this decision? Here are a few data points.

First, the parties will become more powerful. Over the past few elections, most people looking to get around donation limits gave tons of money to Super PACs. Now contributors can ingratiate themselves with a party by giving directly. Along the same lines, major bundlers (e.g. those who have a habit of getting ambassadorships) will gain more pull.

Second, very few donors hit the limits set out by the Federal Election Committee (FEC) in 2012. Per Open Secrets, only 2,972 donors maxed out to committees, and only 591 maxed out to candidates. Maxed-out donors leaned about 3 to 2 toward giving to Republican candidates. Only 646 donors hit the limit on both committees and candidates. These numbers, however, probably slightly underestimate the GOP advantage going forward, because top Super PAC donations leaned 2 to 1 toward Republicans in 2012, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Finally, transparency may very well increase (at least a little). Who donates to Super PACs and how they do it has been fairly opaque. Donations to PACs, party committees and candidates are subject to more stringent FEC disclosure rules.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.