The Democratic war to get money out of politics just took a hit after the Supreme Court ruled today in favor of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the case of the Federal Election Committee v. Ted Cruz for Senate. Cruz brought the case against the FEC after he purposefully exceeded the allowable lending limit to his campaign by $10,000 in an apparent attempt to set up a test case that could further erode restrictions on political campaign spending.
George W. Bush appointee Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in which he states:
“This burden is no small matter. Debt is a ubiquitous tool for financing electoral campaigns, especially for new candidates and challengers. By inhibiting a candidate from using this critical source of campaign funding, [the law]raises a barrier to entry – thus abridging political speech.”
Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) who, along with then-Senator John McCain (R-AZ) co-sponsored the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), took to Twitter to express his disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision:
McCain-Feingold was enacted 20 years ago this month. In those 20 years, campaign finance reform has become viciously partisan, along with voting rights and election security. Sadly, it is almost hard to believe that McCain-Feingold passed the Senate in 2002 w/a vote of 60 to 40.
— Russ Feingold (@russfeingold) March 29, 2022
Critics of the ruling see the decision as another way for the GOP to make an end-run around democracy and allow donors to influence legislation. The BCRA allows candidates to borrow and repay loans up to $250,000 raised with pre-election dollars within a 20-day period. The new Supreme Court ruling dismisses those limits.
Obama nominee Justice Elena Kagan was one of three dissenting opinions, writing:
“The politician is happy; the donors are happy. the only loser is the public. It inevitably suffers from government corruption.”
In Cruz’s 2018 senate race against challenger Beto O’Rourke, HuffPost reported that Cruz intentionally lent his campaign $10,000 over the limit – a day before his victory – in an attempt to challenge the boundaries of the BCRA. It seems to have worked. Not only was Cruz allowed to repay himself the $10K overage, but an un-reimbursed $545,000 from his 2012 Senate run.
Justice Kagan alleges that the result of the decision will “allow for the lawmakers to get paid directly and, in exchange, they can offer political favors.”
This ruling continues what Citizens United v. FEC started when the Supreme Court ruled that limiting corporate contributions was a violation of free speech. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had previously challenged the BCRA in 2003 but was only partially successful. The Citizens United decision in 2010 overruled the parts that McConnell originally sought to overturn.
While Cruz and the GOP appear happy with the Supreme Court’s decision, those on the left are bracing for the consequences of the ruling. Texas Democrats tweeted:
Ted Cruz is as corrupt as they come, and this #SCOTUS ruling just gave the greenlight to further pollute campaign finance laws.
— Texas Democrats (@texasdemocrats) May 16, 2022
With dark money increasingly having an adverse impact on our nation’s politics, politicians, legislation, and democracy, this misguided Supreme Court ruling is a slippery slope to a place we’ve unfortunately been before.
Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick