‘The sky is rising, not falling.’

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On April 2 the U.S. Supreme Court continued its abolition of limits on election spending, striking down an overall donation cap on the amount individuals contribute to federal candidates in a two-year election cycle.

The 5-to-4 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission followed a 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.

Alumnus Bobby Burchfield (’76), a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Washington, D.C., argued the McCutcheon v. FEC case before the court last October on behalf of the appellants, Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee. McCutcheon, who had contributed a total of about $33,000 to 16 candidates for federal office in the 2012 election cycle, said he had wanted to give $1,776 each to 12 more but was stopped by the overall cap for individuals. The party committee said it wanted to receive contributions above the legal limit for political committees.

Opponents of campaign limits praised the decision, and Burchfield was quoted in The National Law Journal as saying the ruling will bring new money to political parties and will help candidates who are challenging incumbents. “The sky is rising, not falling,” he said.

Burchfield is a former vice chair of the Wake Forest board of trustees and former chair of the Alumni Council. He recently made a $2 million commitment to establish the Burchfield Presidential Chair of Political Economy. “I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in several political contexts — working with a presidential campaign and then working with senators and congressmen in connection with various political issues and constitutional issues,” he said in the Spring 2014 issue of Wake Forest Magazine.

“I began to think in terms of what could I do for the University that would provide the best grounding for our future leaders in public policy,” said Burchfield, who received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2006. “In my concept of the chair, it combines both the ‘what should government be?’ and ‘what should government do?’ and ‘what is the best public policy?’ — the political theory side of it — with ‘what are the costs and benefits of any particular mode or proposal that the government decides to pursue?’ That is the sort of analytical and conceptual grounding that our future leaders need to have to sort out some of the big problems they are going to face.”

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