Washington— The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a provision of the federal campaign finance law capping the amount of money a candidate can be reimbursed for personal loans made to their campaign, siding with GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in its challenge to the restriction.
the Ruling 6-3 of the court’s conservative majority is the latest in a series of rulings that have unraveled the limits of campaign finance under the First Amendment. This was mounted by Cruz, who loaned his 2018 re-election campaign $260,000 the day before the general election to force a challenge to the law.
Writing on behalf of the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said the provision at the center of the case, known as the Federal Election Commission v Ted Cruz for the Senate, “burdens candidates who wish to incur expenditures in name of their own candidacy through personal loans”. and violates the First Amendment rights of candidates and their campaigns to engage in political speech.
“By preventing a candidate from using this essential source of campaign finance, however, Section 304 removes a barrier to entry – thereby curtailing political speech,” Roberts wrote.
Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, the three liberal justices on the court, dissented. Kagan, joined by her two colleagues, warned that with her decision, the majority of the court “gives a green light to all the sordid business that Congress has seen fit to stop” thanks to the limitation of loan repayments.
“By rejecting the law, the court is fueling non-public, self-interested governance. It undermines the integrity, both real and apparent, of the political process,” she wrote.
The restriction at the heart of Cruz’s dispute with the FEC was enacted by Congress under the bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, known as the McCain-Feingold Act after its two sponsors. Under this measure, a campaign can use post-election contributions to repay up to $250,000 to a candidate who loaned money to their own campaign. A subsequent FEC rule imposes a 20-day deadline after Election Day for a campaign to use money raised before the election to repay the portion of a candidate’s loan that exceeds $250,000.
In his last Senate race, against Democrat Beto O’Rourke, Cruz loaned his campaign $10,000 more than the maximum amount allowed to be repaid with post-election contributions under the law. Cruz’s campaign then reimbursed him $250,000, but was barred from reimbursing him the remaining $10,000 due to the 20-day window.
Cruz then challenged the FEC rule in April 2019, arguing that the loan repayment cap violates the First Amendment. While the FEC decided to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Cruz lacked the legal standing to challenge the restriction, a three-judge panel in the federal district court in Washington disagreed. The court also struck down the reimbursement limit as a violation of the First Amendment, finding it hampers the exercise of political speech.
The Texas senator was backed in his bid to dismantle the loan repayment rule by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told the Supreme Court in an amicus curiae brief that the case should be used as a way to remove the entirety. of the Campaign Finance Act 2002.
But the Justice Department, on behalf of the FEC, said the rule was necessary to prevent bribery and the appearance of bribery.
The court’s conservative majority said it approached the anti-corruption interest “with a measure of skepticism,” in part because individual contributions to candidates for federal office are already subject to regulations to prevent bribery or corruption. appearance of corruption.
“The government has failed to show that Section 304 serves a permissible anti-corruption purpose, rather than the impermissible purpose of simply limiting the amount of money in politics,” Roberts wrote.
The judgesin Cruz’s court battle with the FEC in January, during which conservative members of the court appeared skeptical of the reimbursement cap.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh suggested the rule chilled a candidate’s ability to loan their own campaign money because they risked forfeiting repayment of amounts over $250,000.