The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has been at war with campaign finance laws for more than a dozen years, going back at least as far as its decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010). On Monday, the Court’s six Republican appointees escalated this war.
FEC v. Ted Cruz for Senate is a boon to wealthy candidates. It scraps an anti-bribery law that limited the amount of money candidates could raise after an election to repay loans they made to their own campaign.
Federal law allows candidates to borrow money for their campaigns. However, in 2001, Congress banned campaigns to repay more than $250,000 of these loans with funds raised after the election. They can repay as much as they want from campaign donations they received before the election (although a federal ordinance required them to do so “within 20 days of the election”).
The idea is that, if already elected officials can solicit donations to repay their own personal debt, lobbyists and others seeking to influence lawmakers can put money directly into the elected official’s pocket — and campaign donations that personally enrich a legislature are. particularly lead to corrupt bargains. sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has filed a case to try to overturn that $250,000 cap, and now the court has sided with him.
Now that this loan repayment limit has been lifted, lawmakers with enough creative accountants may be able to use such loans to give themselves a steady stream of campaign donor revenue.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Rep. For example, Grace Napolitano (D-CA) extends a $150,000 loan to her campaign at 18 percent interest in 1998 — before the 2001 law was passed. Although Napolitano eventually cut the interest rate on this loan to 10 percent, the high-interest loan allowed her to make a significant profit from donors.
As of 2009, Napolitano reportedly raised $221,780 to repay that loan — $158,000 of which was classified as ‘interest’. Because the 6-3 decision in Ted Cruz neutralizing the 2001 law, lawmakers may now be able to use a similar system to funnel legal bribes into their personal bank accounts.
Other lawmakers may not be so bold in trying to line their own pockets. But they may still be tempted to reward donors who help them recoup the cost of personal loans. As Judge Elena Kagan contradicts, a candidate who receives money that goes straight into his own pocket will likely be “more grateful than for ordinary campaign contributions (which do not increase his personal wealth).”
The case builds on previous campaign finance decisions, but also expands on them
The Tendency of Chief Justice John Roberts’ Majority Opinion Ted Cruz is that protecting the right of candidates to get their campaign message out – and to spend as much as they want to get that message out – is of such superlative importance that it exceeds the public interest in preventing corruption or to ensure that elections are not dominated by the rich. As Roberts writes, “the First Amendment ‘has its most complete and urgent application precisely to the campaigning for political office’.”
To be clear, candidates were allowed to spend as much as they wanted to influence their election under the now-overturned law – they could lend their campaigns any amount they wanted and could use donors’ money to pay back everything, as long as they got those donations for elections and repaid their personal loans within 20 days.
But that didn’t go far enough for the Court’s current conservative majority.
Roberts’s Ted Cruz opinion fully embraces the value system implicit in past decisions, such as: citizens unitedallowing companies to spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections, as long as they did not donate directly to candidates.
The First Amendment, Roberts writes, “secures a candidate’s ability to use personal funds to fund campaign speeches,” a rule that “reflects our deep national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust and broad.” . Open.”
Of course, this “deep national commitment” only benefits uninhibited, robust and open debate by certain privileged individuals. It goes without saying that most Americans can’t afford to drop $250,000 or more for a political campaign, even if they expect that money to be paid back at some point in the future.
But Roberts wipes away any concerns the rule announced in Ted Cruz unfairly favors rich people who want to run for office. Quote from the Court’s ruling in Davis v. FEC (2008), Roberts writes that “level”[ing] electoral opportunities for candidates of different personal wealth’ is an ‘impermissible target’.
Likewise, in his opinion, Roberts attaches great importance to distinguishing between different forms of corruption that also played a major role in citizens united† While the Court’s decisions ostensibly allow Congress to prohibit “quid pro quo” corruption — that is, an explicit deal in which a legislature agrees to cast a particular vote or take some other official action in return for a campaign donation – decisions such as citizens united do not allow campaign finance laws that attempt to prevent donors from buying access to lawmakers.
Like citizens unitedRoberts’s Ted Cruz opinion describes this kind of influence seeking as an affirmative good. “Influence and access ’embody a central feature of democracy,'” writes Roberts, “that voters support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and candidates who are elected can be expected to respond to those concerns.”
In other words, the Ted Cruz Opinion suggests that it is good for democracy if an oil boss in Texas can write checks to candidates who represent the interests of the oil industry. And if that candidate rewards this director by meeting him to hear his specific concerns, that’s also a “central feature of democracy.”
But while the outcome of Ted Cruz Unsurprisingly, those familiar with the conservative judges’ previous rulings on campaign finance laws are an escalation of previous decisions. As Judge Kagan writes in dissent, the Court’s previous rulings distinguished between laws that “restrict spending” and those “restrictions.”
That is, the government’s power to restrict what campaigns can do with the money they have legally raised is rather limited. But, as the Court in Buckley v. Valeo (1976), “Limiting the amount an individual or group may contribute to a candidate or political committee only marginally limits the contributor’s ability to engage in free communication.”
For example, this is why the Court has so far left untouched a federal law that limits the amount each individual can donate to a particular federal campaign to $2,900.
But the decision in Ted Cruz puts a limit on how much money campaigns can raise from donors, not a limit on how campaigns can spend their money. Before Ted Cruz, campaigns were only able to raise $250,000 in post-election funds to repay a candidate’s loan. Now they can pick up as much as they want.
That’s an escalation in the Court’s approach to campaign finance. While decisions such as: citizens united Allowing unrestricted donations to political organizations independent of a political campaign — such as a super PAC — the court has historically recognized that donations made directly to a candidate or their campaign are different because they are more likely to lead to corrupt behavior.
According to the theory articulated by such cases as: citizens uniteda legislator is less likely to be corrupted by a large donation to an “independent” organization that supports their re-election than to be corrupted by an equally large donation to their campaign, so long as the independent group’s activities are “not coordinated” with the candidate.
Frankly, Roberts’ opinion contains some language that suggests the court leaves intact the $2,900 limit on individual campaign donations. Indeed, Roberts argues that the bribery protection afforded by the loan repayment limit is unnecessary, as lobbyists and other donors are only allowed to give a maximum of $2,900 per election cycle to an elected official — even if that money goes straight into the pocket of the government. officer goes.
Apparently, bribery isn’t a big deal, as long as it’s less than $2,900 (and as long as that bribe isn’t made to a super PAC or other group nominally independent of the candidate.)
Regardless, the Court’s campaign financing decisions were a steady march towards deregulation. So there is no guarantee that any attempt to make elections less corrupt will remain safe.