WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether a political party may spend all it wishes to help elect candidates, regardless of federal limits on spending done in concert with a political campaign.
The case could have huge implications for campaign fund raising, which operates within a complicated system of Watergate-era federal spending limits.
Both sides in a 14-year-old dispute asked the justices to take a closer look at a federal appeals court ruling this year in Colorado. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down federal limits on how much money parties can spend on activities that are coordinated with candidates but still separate from the candidates' campaign coffers.
The Colorado Republican Party argued in court papers that the limits are an unfair infringement on the First Amendment right to free speech and should be scrapped nationwide.
In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that political parties could spend unlimited "hard money" -- cash used specifically to influence elections -- if they were not working in consultation with the candidate.
At the time, the court bypassed the debate about whether parties could be limited if they were consulting with the candidates.
This time around, the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department argued in court papers that candidates would know where huge influxes of "coordinated expenditures" came from, and once in office might feel beholden to individual party officials.
Without limits on coordinated expenditures, state parties could become funnels for campaign cash from individuals and political action committees with their own axes to grind, the government added.
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