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US Supreme Court ruling eases donation limits

WASHINGTON--The Supreme Court struck down some limits on campaign contributions, creating the potential for big donors to play an even greater role in U.S. congressional and presidential campaigns.

The narrowly divided court on Wednesday rejected a ceiling, now set at US$123,200, on overall contributions to candidates, parties and political action committees over a two-year period. But the impact of this ruling is limited because it does not undermine restrictions on contributions to individual candidates, now set at US$2,600 per candidate, per election.

Still, the ruling further erodes restrictions put in place to reduce the influence of big spenders on U.S. politics. It follows a major 2010 case that lifted limits on independent spending by corporations and unions. Under that ruling, big donors have been able to work around the restrictions by going outside the campaign regulatory system and spending an unlimited amount of money on attack ads.

The 5-4 ruling split the court's liberal and conservative justices. Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, said the aggregate limits do not act to prevent corruption, the rationale the court has upheld as justifying contribution limits. He said it intrudes on citizens' free-speech rights.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the liberal dissenters, said that the court's conservatives had “eviscerated our nation's campaign finance laws” through Wednesday's ruling and the 2010 decision, known as Citizens United.

“If the court in Citizens United opened a door, today's decision we fear will open a floodgate,” Breyer said in comments from the bench. “It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institution.”

Reaction to the ruling generally followed party lines, with advocates of capping money in politics aligned with Democrats in opposition to the decision.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the Obama administration is still reviewing the details of Wednesday's decision. But he noted that the solicitor general, which argues the administration's positions before the court, had defended the constitutionality of the previous limits.

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