Campaign Cash Ruling Boosts GOP – For Now

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

On its surface, the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision striking down aggregate campaign-finance limits appears like a winner for the Republican Party.

Indeed, the plaintiff in the case, Shaun McCutcheon of Alabama, is a Republican, and the Republican National Committee even filed a brief in support of McCutcheon.

"Today's Court decision in McCutcheon v FEC is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. "When free speech is allowed to flourish, our democracy is stronger."

Also stronger are the bank accounts of candidates and political parties.

The Supreme Court's decision left intact the caps that any individual could give to a candidate or a political party, NBC's Pete Williams reports. But it invalidated the limit on how much any individual can contribute to all federal candidates ($48,600) and political parties ($74,600).

In other words, a Republican mega-donor like Sheldon Adelson -- or a Democratic mega-donor like George Soros -- now can donate to an unlimited number of candidates and party organizations, as long as the contributions remain within the caps. And then throw in the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which has led to an explosion of spending from outside political groups.

Yet the Republican Party typically has a wider base of these mega-donors. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, six of the 10 biggest donors to outside groups in 2012 were Republicans -- including Adelson at No. 1, who spent a whopping $93 million that election cycle.

And of the 591 donors who contributed at least $46,200 to all federal candidates in 2012, 14.5 million was given to Democrats, versus $19.5 million to Republicans, per the Center for Responsive Politics. That's 43 percent to Democrats and 57 percent to Republicans.

But here's an important reminder about all of that money: It doesn't always buy you victory.

As it turned in 2012, President Barack Obama and Democrats won in that election cycle, because what might matter more than overall money is parity -- spending is neutralized when one party doesn't hold a unilateral advantage.

And then there's how the political parties adapt to these campaign-finance changes. After the McCain-Feingold law, which banned unlimited "soft money" to the political parties, Democrats and Barack Obama created an army of small-dollar donors, who helped their victories in 2008 and 2012.

Which all hits at this campaign-finance truth: A short-term money advantage doesn't last forever.