Supreme Court Rules For Ted Cruz, Strikes Down Limit On Post-Election Gifts To Winners

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a campaign event for fellow Republican, senate candidate Dave McCormick at Leddy’s Pub on May 12, 2022, in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times/TNS) — The Supreme Court has ruled for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Monday struck down the legal limit on how much candidates can collect from big donors after an election is over.

Siding with Cruz, the court’s conservative majority said the $250,000 limit on post-election gifts to winning candidates violates their rights to free speech.

The court’s conservatives said money in politics is a type of speech, which means that any restriction how much candidates collect or spend can be challenged under the 1st Amendment.

Candidates are free to spend their own money on their campaigns, including by taking out personal loans. But the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 put a $250,000 limit on how much they may collect from donors after the election to repay their loans.

Speaking for the court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. called the limit on loan repayments a “drag on a candidate’s 1st Amendment right to use his own money to facilitate political speech.” Because the limit “burdens core political speech without proper justification,” it is unconstitutional, he said.

He was joined by five others, all Republican appointees.

The three liberal justices, all Democratic appointees, dissented.

“In striking down the law today, the court green lights all the sordid bargains Congress thought right to stop,” said Justice Elena Kagan in dissent.

“Democracy works only if the people have faith in those who govern. And the people cannot have faith in representatives who trade official acts for financial gain,” she wrote.

Supporters of campaign finance laws say the restrictions help prevent corruption. Before an election, contributions to the candidate are intended to fund the campaign and sway voters. That is not so after the election has been decided, they note.

“Post-election contributions to repay candidate loans poses a special danger of real and apparent quid pro quo corruption,” Justice Department lawyers told the court. “Every dollar given by the contributor ultimately goes into the candidate’s pocket.”

“The post-election context also introduces the risk that the donor will contribute out of perceived compulsion rather than conviction,” they said. “For example, a donor who contributed to the losing candidate before the election may feel pressure to contribute to the winning candidate afterwards, lest he face retaliation.”

Cruz challenged the law. Just before he won reelection in 2018, he took out a $260,000 personal loan for his campaign, knowing that he could not repay the last $10,000 of the loan with contributions from donors.

He acknowledged that was his “sole and exclusive motivation” in taking out the loan was to give himself the legal basis to challenge the limit as unconstitutional.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican National Committee filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Cruz.

McConnell’s brief was written by former President Trump’s White House counsel Donald McGahn and his solicitor general Noel Francisco. They urged the court to not only strike down the limit on post-election gifts, but to strike down what remains of the McCain-Feingold Act.

Shortly after it was passed and signed by President George W. Bush, McConnell sued to have it struck down. He lost in the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote in the case of McConnell vs. FEC.

In 2006, after Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the majority flipped, and the court has struck down most of its provisions, including in the 2010 Citizens United case.

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