Shaun McCutcheon, an electrical engineer from Alabama, is the man of the political hour, with the Supreme Court handing down a hugely important campaign finance decision bearing his name on Wednesday. The ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC struck down the overall limit on how much money individuals can spend in one election cycle, while leaving in place individual contribution limits. We spoke with McCutcheon by phone Wednesday afternoon. Our conversation, lightly edited for grammar, is below.
FIX: What is your reaction to the decision that was handed down this morning?
MCCUTCHEON: Very excited and very happy. I was a little bit surprised; I thought it was going to take longer. So I wasn’t really ready to do it today, but I’m very happy and very surprised.
FIX: What has the reaction been to you personally? Are people reaching out to you and expressing gratitude?
MCCUTCHEON: I would say hundreds of people are trying to contact me, that I know of. And they’re all saying congratulations. A lot of people that I’ve heard from lately, and a lot of people that I haven’t heard from lately. So a lot of people are trying to contact me. It’s a big day.
FIX: How significant do you think this is in the grander scheme of campaign finance?
MCCUTCHEON: To me, it’s very important because it involves private individuals – "We The People" – being able to spend more money directly on campaigns and parties and committees. To me, it’s significant. I’m not sure about how it goes into the sequence of cases that have been going on for some time.
FIX: Where would you like to see things head from here? Would you like to see a system where there are no limits?
MCCUTCHEON: Well, again, I think some of the base limits make some sense. I’ve been saying that since the beginning. The aggregate limits did not make any sense. It’s about freedom and your freedom of speech and your right to spend your money on as many candidates, parties and PACs as you choose. In a free country, we should be free to spend our money – especially on media and speech and disseminating ideas. This is very important for me, because it’s about private people being able to have more of their ideas out in the political marketplace. It’s very critical to the future.
FIX: How many candidates are you planning on giving $1,776 to (this is the amount McCutcheon gave to candidates until he reached the overall limit -- currently $48,600 for candidates)?
MCCUTCHEON: Actually I maxed out the other day -- $5,200 – to (congressional candidate) Niger Innis out in Nevada. So without aggregate limits, I can give more than $1,776. I’ll just have to look at each candidate individually. But one thing that hasn’t been mentioned is, I tend to support challengers, and a lot of those challengers don’t even win. So I plan to do more of that. I think a lot of numbers they’ve thrown around didn’t even account for candidates that don’t even win.
FIX: So will you be giving more than those old aggregate limits this election cycle?
MCCUTCHEON: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I’m well on the way to meeting them already, so certainly I will now. Absolutely. Both the candidates and also with the parties. And the PACs too. The PACs are probably the easiest ones to hit. And the state parties.
FIX: Obviously there are people who disagree with this decision. They argue that this is increasing the ability of wealthy people to control the American political system. What’s your reaction to that criticism?
MCCUTCHEON: I think they don’t really understand. I disagree with them. The wealthy people are not elected. It’s the elected officials that we need to look at – the people who are in office. We’re talking about people who are outside office, and we’re talking about private people. You know, “We The People.” And also they need to think about what we’re spending the money on, which is advertising political ideas in the political marketplace. Media, mail, TV, all kinds of communications. ... I think they really don’t understand that it’s just about marketing good and better ideas. And hearing too many good ideas is not going to hurt anything. You may not listen to any of them, but allowing people to disseminate ideas is a good thing.
FIX: Do you plan on being a spokesperson for these kinds of causes going forward, or do you feel like you’ve made your point?
MCCUTCHEON: I plan to do speaking and fundraising and do whatever I can. This is certainly hard to ever beat, if that’s what you mean by making a point. It’s very rare to go to the Supreme Court -- much less win. So I doubt this will happen again for me, but I certainly would like to be involved in promoting free speech and more candidates and competition in the election process. I certainly want to be a part of that going forward. And hopefully this will help do that.
(McCutcheon also noted that he’s releasing a book about his experience with the Supreme Court case. It is due out in four days.)