May 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court sides with Cruz in campaign finance case

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at a campaign event on May 12 in Harleysville, Pa. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in his challenge to a federal rule that puts a cap on post-election political donations that help campaigns repay personal loans from candidates.

Driving the news: "This provision burdens core political speech without proper justification," Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for a 6-3 majority, said.

  • The court ruled that the federal law, which was passed in 2002 as part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, was a violation of a political candidate’s free expression under the First Amendment.
  • "The question is whether this restriction violates the First Amendment rights of candidates and their campaigns to engage in political speech," Roberts wrote.
  • "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," he added.

The big picture: The law puts a $250,000 cap on the amount of money raised after an election that campaigns can use to repay candidates for personal loans, Axios previously reported.

  • The Federal Election Commission (FEC) argued that the law seeks to prevent the appearance of quid pro quo corruption, per the Washington Post.
  • Cruz loaned his campaign $260,000 before his 2018 election as a direct challenge to the rule and sued the FEC in 2019.

State of play: Good government groups have warned the court's position will allow high-dollar political donors to effectively put money directly in the pockets of elected officials.

  • A candidate who wins a federal election can now immediately turn around and solicit money explicitly earmarked for his or her own bank account.
  • That creates "a self-evident and acute risk of corruption," according to the Campaign Legal Center, which filed an amicus brief opposing Cruz's position.

What they're saying: "Sen. Cruz is gratified that the Supreme Court ruled that the existing law imposed an unconstitutional restriction on free speech that unfairly benefited incumbent politicians and the super wealthy," a Cruz spokesperson said in a statement.

  • "This landmark decision will help invigorate our democratic process by making it easier for challengers to take on and defeat career politicians."

Go deeper: Supreme Court agrees to hear Ted Cruz's campaign finance case

Axios' Lachlan Markay contributing reporting.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from Sen. Ted Cruz's spokesperson.

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