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In April, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in a big campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. The justices voted 5-4 to overturn certain limits on how much money Americans can give to candidates and committees.
The reaction was swift. There was concern, among the dissenting justices and campaign finance reform advocates, that the decision would open the floodgates, allowing more Americans to give more money. But so far, it seems the decision has only affected a small group.
Gone are what are called “aggregate limits” on political donations. That is, according to Emory University School of Law Professor Michael Kang, “the total amount an individual could give to candidates, parties and other PACs.”
In the past, a donor could give a maximum of $74,600 to party committees every two years, and $48,600 to federal candidates. A Republican donor named Shaun McCutcheon challenged those, and the court’s majority ruled they were unconstitutional. But, Kang says, here’s the thing: “The court striking down the aggregate limit probably won’t affect that many givers going forward.”
That’s because most Americans weren’t already affected by them.
“There really weren’t a lot of people bumping up against these aggregate limits. So, in 2012, I think the number is roughly 650 maxed out,” says Heather Gerken, a professor at Yale Law School. To “max out” means you gave as much as you could to candidates and committees – tens of thousands of dollars.
During oral arguments, the justices debated a hypothetical: With no aggregate limits, a donor could, in theory, funnel millions of dollars to a single candidate through committees. Gerken acknowledges that is plausible, but she says she doesn’t expect it will happen too often.
“If you have enough money to give $3.5 million in one check, you probably have enough money to fund your own super PAC,” she says, noting that is something many big donors have done. If you have your own super PAC, you have a lot more say over how your money gets spent.
So who has been affected most directly by the Supreme Court’s decision? Lobbyists.
Kelly Bingel is one of them. She is a big supporter of Democratic candidates.
“I think, as soon as the decision came out, every lobbyist in Washington, DC was looking at their checkbook, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what does this mean for me?’”
A lobbyist’s checkbook gets a lot of use. Part of her job, Bingel says, is to give money to politicians. She plans for it every year.
“This was a part of my family’s budget,” she allows.
Bingel pays out of pocket to go to political fundraisers, and there are a lot of them.
“We could spend breakfast, lunch and dinner with folks,” Bingel says. “My personal preference is to have breakfast and dinner with my family.”
Bingel estimates she gets around a hundred solicitations a day, mostly by email. In the past, those aggregate limits the Supreme Court overturned gave her an easy out:
“I mean, it used to be you could say, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve hit the max.’ Now, you have to say, ‘I’m sorry. I just can’t…’”
Lobbyist Kenneth J. Kies, managing director of the Federal Policy Group, used that line.
“In my case, it was actually true,” he says.
Kies bumped up against those caps many times. He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and Republican Party committees.
Kies also worried about the effect of the McCutcheon decision, joking, “I was going to get rid of my email address and delist my phone number.”
One limit is still in place, a cap on how much a donor can give to a single candidate: $2,600.
“I think from the standpoint of campaign finance reformers, they feel like they dodged a bullet here,” says Kang, noting that “base limit” is something the justices could address in the future.
“I don’t think it’s too sweeping to say that the court really is on a path toward something approaching total deregulation of campaign finance,” he says.
If that limit on individual donations were to disappear, that would affect many more Americans.
The deal follows a Justice Department report released in April that showed the city's police used excessive force in dealing with many suspects.
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Computer science is still a brogrammer’s world. But efforts to bring more girls and minorities into the field may finally be paying off.
According to the College Board, which administers Advanced Placement tests to high schoolers, the number of girls taking the AP computer science test in 2014 increased by 35.5 percent over last year. For boys, the increase was 24.5 percent. While the participation for white students grew by 21.6 percent from 2013, the rates of increase were even larger in other racial categories, including for non-Mexican Latinos, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and those who described their race as “other.”
Students who do well enough on the exam earn college credit for the course.
The College Board itself may be partly responsible for the increase. In collaboration with Google, it brought roughly 500 new AP math and science courses to schools with populations that are underrepresented in the STEM fields. One College Board official called the AP results the “first real indication of progress” for girls and minorities in years.
The exam is still dominated by boys, specifically white and Asian ones. And while the percentage of male test-takers dropped to its lowest level in five years in 2014, overall they still accounted for 80 percent of all students taking the test.
Similarly, while the percentage of white students who took the test dropped to its lowest rate in the last five years, white students still make up 50.4 percent of all test-takers.
The numbers are preliminary; the results of some make-up tests have not yet been recorded, according to Trevor Packer, who runs the AP program at the College Board.
The charts below show the number of boys and girls who took the test from 2010 to 2014, as well as the increased participation rates by race.
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The presidents of Honduras and Guatemala also called for more aggressive cooperation with the U.S. to curb the violence and poverty they say is driving child migrants to the U.S.