With contribution limits effectively sidestepped by the unlimited spending of Super PACs, political nonprofits, and other campaign finance vehicles, the old reform strategy of using dollar limits to curb the influence of big money is unlikely to succeed. Even if the court rediscovers judicial modesty, decides to check its tendency to second-guess Congress, and instead reaffirms Buckley’s validation of both contribution limits and aggregate caps, such a decision will have at best a modest effect in constraining the role of great private wealth in our elections. That goal is more likely to be achieved by mechanisms that dilute the role of great private wealth by increasing the share of campaign money coming from small donors. As a number of states and cities have demonstrated, small-donor matching systems, in which small contributions are matched by public funds, often at a greater than one-to-one ratio, are one way to do this.
In other words, whatever the outcome in McCutcheon, the future of campaign finance reform, if it is to succeed, is likely to depend more on the adoption of public subsidies and other measures that empower small donors, and inspire candidates to pursue their donations, than on the limits at issue in the case.