Supreme Court strikes down campaign finance regulation – thanks to Ted Cruz

Roberts said neither Congress nor the Justice Department had provided adequate justification to justify the First Amendment burden the court had previously ruled posed by campaign finance limits. The chief justice also argued that capping the amount of money a candidate can use to repay post-election loans could reduce the pool of candidates willing to run for office.

“The ability to lend money to a campaign is especially important for new candidates and challengers,” wrote Roberts, an appointee of former President George W. Bush. “In practice, personal loans will sometimes be the only avenue for an unknown challenger with limited ties to initial campaign expenses. … And early spending – and therefore early expression – is critical to a newcomer’s success.

The Justice Department argued that the law serves anti-corruption interests that are particularly acute when a newly elected official’s campaign donations flow directly into the official’s pocket.

However, Roberts said that concern made little sense because donations are still capped at the federal limit of $2,900.

“The extent of the burden may vary depending on the circumstances of a particular candidate and a particular election. But there is no doubt that the law weighs down First Amendment campaign rhetoric, and any such law must at least be justified by legitimate interest,” the Chief Justice wrote.

Writing for the court’s liberal wing, Justice Elena Kagan said the reluctance of her conservative colleagues to recognize the potential for corruption in such arrangements was baffling.

“The theory of legislation is easy to understand. Political contributions that will line a candidate’s pockets, given after their election, present a particular danger of corruption,” Kagan wrote in his dissent. “The candidate has a greater than usual interest in getting the money (to replenish his personal finances), and is now able to give something back. Donors understand its situation well and are eager to take advantage of it. In short, everyone’s incentives are stacked to increase the risk of a dirty sale. »

Kagan, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, also said the High Court’s decision to strike down the provision was certain to increase public perception that money does buy political results in the United States. United.

“By allowing these payments to go forward unrestricted, today’s decision can only further discredit the political system of this country,” she wrote. “It doesn’t take any political genius to see the increased risk of corruption.”

The cap is the product of both a Federal Election Commission rule and a federal law that was part of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold.

Roberts’ court has long been hostile to the BCRA, reducing the law in favor of fewer restrictions on political spending in the name of free speech. Although Roberts is increasingly distancing himself from the rest of the conservative justices in other areas of law, he has been an almost entirely reliable opponent of campaign finance restrictions during his tenure.

Most famously, the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 United Citizens decision prohibiting the government from limiting independent spending by companies and unions.

This decision and other related decisions eventually paved the way for a decade of free-spending super PACs, as well as so-called “dark money” groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political activities without fully disclose their donors.

However, Roberts and the other conservative justices did not completely gut what remains of the BCRA in Monday’s decision, as some conservatives had hoped.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has long sought to gut the law, had urged the Supreme Court to throw out the entire law in light of the Cruz case.

“There is no need to keep what remains of BCRA on the books. This Court should wipe the slate clean,” wrote Don McGahn, McConnell’s attorney, who served as White House counsel to the former President Donald Trump while in office and also chairman of the Federal Election Commission, wrote in a friend of the court brief filed late last year.

This is not a route taken by the court, with conservative justices largely avoiding that conversation during oral arguments in January.