WASHINGTON – Members of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority on Wednesday seemed sympathetic to Sen. Ted Cruz in a challenge the Texas Republican brought to a provision of campaign finance law limiting the repayment of federal candidates’ loans to their campaigns.
The issue before the court is limited but could signal how open the six-justice conservative majority may be to other challenges to campaign finance law. A decision is expected in the next few months, just as campaigning for the 2022 midterm elections intensifies.
The case involves a section of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The provision says that if a candidate loans his or her campaign money before an election, the campaign cannot repay the candidate more than $250,000 using funds raised after Election Day. The loans can still be repaid with money raised before the election.
Cruz says the provision has the effect of deterring the loans.
The Biden administration argues, among other things, that Congress intended the provision as an anti-corruption measure. But Justice Amy Coney Barrett noted that a lower court found that the government "hadn’t introduced sufficient evidence of corruption coming from these post-election contributions."
Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, two of the court’s three liberals, suggested that what Congress did in enacting the limit was make an appropriate compromise.
“The entire point of this law is that we start getting worried when people start repaying the candidate’s indebtedness because that’s just another way of putting money in his pocket,” Kagan said.
Cruz argues the provision makes candidates think twice about loaning their campaign money because it substantially increases the risk that any candidate loan will never be fully repaid. He says it is unconstitutional and a lower court agreed.
Cruz, who has served in the Senate since 2013 and ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016, loaned his campaign $260,000 the day before the 2018 general election for the purpose of challenging the law.
The administration is arguing that Cruz does not have a right to challenge the law, in part because in his case it does not prevent him from being repaid in full. Even if Cruz can challenge the provision, the government says, it does not violate the Constitution because it is “at most a modest burden” aimed at combating corruption.
The government says the majority of loans candidates make to their campaigns are for less than $250,000 and so the loan repayment limit does not apply.
The case is Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate, 21-12.