This past Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down its orders from last Friday's Conference. In that order, they agreed to full briefing (probably for argument next fall) in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. (The technical entry on the order is "probably jurisdiction noted.") While this type of case is one that the Supreme Court technically has to hear, typically, the Supreme Court will rule these cases on the initial submissions without full briefing and argument (handing down the decision at the same time that it agrees that it is supposed to hear the case.)
There are three basic limits contained in the various campaign finance laws. First, there is the limit on what an individual can give to an individual candidate committee for an individual election. These limits have been upheld as avoiding the appearance of corruption that could come from one individual giving a large donation to a candidate's committee. Second, there is a limit on what an individual can give to non-candidate committees, such as party committees, over a two-year election cycle. Third, there is an overall limit on what an individual can donate to all federal committees over a two-year election cycle. (The limit is slightly under $200,000.00.; so 99% of U.S. citizens couldn't even come close to giving the limit.)
The challenge in McCutcheon is to the last limit (although the initial submissions indicate that if the court feels it can't strike down the overall limit without striking down the individual limits, going that extra step will not bother the plaintiffs). The basic preliminary gist of the argument is that the court has held that it is unconstitutional to limit spending. According to the plaintiffs, while the limits on a donation to an individual candidate might be justified (or might not) by the desire to avoid corruption, the overall limit does not aid that purpose and is merely an attempt to put a limit on the ability of donors to spend their money.
Another potential concern is Danielczyk v. United States, a case asking for the Supreme Court to strike down the ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns. The Supreme Court merely passed this case to a later docket and may still reject it, but coming the same week as McCutcheon has to make you speculate about what is going on in the Justice's chambers.
While it is too soon to run around shouting the sky is falling, the past several years have seen a series of mortal wounds (of which Citizen United might be the least significant) to the very concept of a system in which donations are both limited and publicly disclosed. The current trend is heading to the GOP's preferred system of unlimited contributions with limited disclosure. We will see this time next year if the Supreme Court is going to take that next big step toward getting pesky good government folks out of the way of the best government that money can buy.