Ted Cruz asks Supreme Court to void anti-corruption campaign rule
Washington DC — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican National Committee joined Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday in urging the Supreme Court to strike down a campaign funding law that bars winning candidates from collecting checks from donors to pay off personal campaign debts of more than $250,000.
It's the latest effort by Republicans to free election money from limits set by Congress in decades past. And this one stands a good chance of winning in a court with six conservatives, all appointed by Republicans.
During Wednesday's argument however, a Justice Department lawyer said the limit on post-election contributions prevents an obvious form of corruption. Otherwise, newly elected members of the Senate and House could solicit "gifts" of money to pay off their personal campaign loans.
The case arrived before the high court in an unusual way. In 2018, Cruz was locked in an expensive fight for reelection, and he had raised $35 million. But the day before the election, he lent his campaign $260,000, an amount just above the limit set by Congress. That meant he could not collect donations after the election to cover the last $10,000 to repay himself.
Instead, he cited this restriction to file a suit alleging the $250,000 limit was unconstitutional. A three-judge panel ruled last year that the provision in the McCain-Feingold Act was unconstitutional.
Republicans want to free election money from limits
The high court agreed to hear the government's appeal in Federal Election Commission v. Cruz.
Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said the limit on post-election funding raising made sense.
"Repaying a loan is like a gift," Kagan said. "When contributors find a way to put money not in the campaign but into a candidate's own personal pocket, that, to me, screams quid pro quo corruption."
Candidates who lost are not likely to get contributions, Sotomayor said. "Why do you give after an election to a candidate who's not going to spend it on getting elected?" She said donors then are giving to a winning candidate to win favors in return. "To me, that's a natural quid pro quo," she said.
But the court conservatives have repeatedly ruled that limits on election spending conflict with the First Amendment's protection of the freedom of speech.
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said the candidate in a costly, close election may see a need to lend his campaign more than $250,000. If so, the federal limit "seems to be a chill on your ability to loan your campaign money." He noted that contributions to a candidate are limited to $2,900, and he questioned why that amount could trigger a concern over corruption.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett said she saw little or no evidence that post-election contributions had led to corruption.
Cover photo: IMAGO/MediaPunch