Originally uploaded at SSRN.


The Supreme Court recently held that campaign contributions under $5200 do not create a “cognizable risk of corruption.” It was wrong. This Essay describes a nexus of timely contributions and special-interest legislation. In the most noteworthy case, a CEO made a first-time $1000 donation to a member of Congress. The next day that representative introduced a securities bill tailored to the interests of the CEO’s firm.

Armed with this real-world account of how small-dollar campaign contributions coincided with favorable legislative action, the Essay reads McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission with a critical eye. In McCutcheon the Supreme Court assumed that small-dollar donations do not pose a risk of corruption, and accordingly struck down aggregate contribution limits on the theory that the base limit of $5200 provides enough of a bulwark against corruption. This Essay suggests otherwise. The fact that the price of corruption is lower than commonly understood has fundamental repercussions for campaign finance law.