A campaign finance case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Federal Election Commission (FEC) vs. Cruz, could have serious implications for corruption in the United States. The essential facts of the case are these: Just a day before Senator Ted Cruz’s narrow victory in the 2018 Senate election, Cruz personally lent $260,000 to his campaign. Under federal campaign finance law, contributions to a candidate’s campaign that come in after the election has already occurred can be used to repay up to $250,000 in personal loans a candidate has made to their own campaigns, but no more. Therefore, Cruz’s campaign reimbursed him only $250,000, not the full $260,000. Cruz challenged the cap on reimbursing a candidate’s personal loans from post-campaign donations as an unconstitutional limit on political speech in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
If Cruz wins—and he very well might—the result could be a substantial increase in bribery of U.S. elected officials. As many commentators have noted (see here, here and here), allowing a victorious candidate to have their loans repaid by private interests is a recipe for quid pro quo corruption. After all, this money goes into an elected official’s pocket, and the fact that the contributions are made after an election increases the likelihood that a post-election donor knows that the recipient will be in a position to do him official favors. But the risks that this case poses to anticorruption law go beyond the particular activity at issue in the case itself. There is a very real risk that the Supreme Court will use this case to further limit the sorts of interests that can justify campaign finance restrictions of any sort, thereby jeopardizing seemingly well-established and recognized limitations on political spending that have long been justified on the grounds that they prevent corruption and its appearance.Continue reading