On Monday, by a 6-3 vote, the conservative majority United States Supreme Court voted to strike down a federal law capping the number of campaign dollars a candidate could repay themselves with post-election contributions. The vote sides in favor of Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz who paid $260,000 in campaign donations toward his 2018 Senate re-election campaign against now gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke.
The Section 304 provision killed by SCOTUS, also known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act passed in 2002, was created to regulate campaign finances and donations. More specifically, it tried to limit the amount of money in politics by bribery donations from corporations to politicians.
According to court documents, Cruz’s repayment was short $10,000 after the 20-day deadline issued in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act and argued and won the case that the law impedes his First Amendment freedom of speech rights.
The conservative majority ruled in favor of Cruz while the three liberal justices dissented. In the SCOTUS opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservatives ruled the federal cap on candidates repaying personal loans after election results is unconstitutional and burdens “core political speech without proper justification.”
“But there is no doubt that the law does burden First Amendment electoral speech, and any such law must at least be justified by a permissible interest,” Roberts wrote. “We conclude that Cruz and the Committee have standing to challenge the threatened enforcement of Section 304 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. ”
The dissenting opinion, written by Elena Kagan, argues the majority ruling against the law will dismantle a system meant to combat political corruption.
“Repaying a candidate’s loan after he has won election cannot serve the usual purposes of a contribution: The money comes too late to aid in any of his campaign activities,” Kagan wrote. “All the money does is enrich the candidate personally. At a time when he can return the favor—by a vote, a contract, an appointment. It takes no political genius to see the heightened risk of corruption—the danger of ‘I’ll make you richer, and you’ll make me richer’ arrangements between donors and officeholders.”
Kagan also said the majority’s decision would diminish public trust even more in the political system.
“The people cannot have faith in representatives who trade official acts for financial gain,” Kagan wrote. “The politician is happy; the donors are happy. The only loser is the public.”
The former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and now president of the Campaign Legal Center said this in a statement in response to the ruling:
“Today’s decision from the Supreme Court of the United States in FEC v. Ted Cruz for Senate is a disappointing one,” Potter wrote.“Permitting candidates to solicit unlimited post-election contributions to repay their personal campaign loans and put the donor money in their own pockets gives an obvious and lamentable opening for special interests to purchase official favors and rig the political system in their favor.”
Original photo: Jarek Tuszyński / Wikimedia Commons