U.S. Supreme Court weighs Senator Cruz’s campaign finance challenge

Jan 19 (Reuters) – The latest conservative attack on a major campaign finance law comes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday as part of Senator Ted Cruz’s bid to strike down a provision limiting the amount of campaign finance. money that candidates can be reimbursed for personal loans to their own campaigns – a cap that supporters call an anti-corruption measure.

Cruz, supported by his fellow Republicans, argued that the $250,000 loan repayment cap violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech by unjustifiably burdening political expression.

The provision is part of a 2002 bipartisan law that has already been pared back by the Supreme Court, including in a landmark 2010 ruling that allowed unlimited independent spending by corporations and unions during elections as freedom of expression protected by the Constitution. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority.

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Judges are due to hear arguments beginning at 10:00 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) in an appeal by Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration, acting on behalf of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), of a lower court ruling in favor of Cruz.

The FEC, which defends the law, said the provision was enacted to deter corruption because it prevents political donors from making post-election contributions that accrue directly to a candidate.

Cruz was first elected to represent Texas in the Senate in 2012. Cruz sued the FEC, which enforces election laws, after his successful 2018 Senate re-election race against Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke. Cruz had loaned his campaign organization $260,000 but was limited by law to a $250,000 repayment from his campaign.

The FEC argued that Cruz did not have the proper legal status to file the challenge because he deliberately loaned his campaign more than the cap specifically to file his lawsuit.

The Supreme Court struck down various provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) – often called the McCain-Feingold Act in recognition of its two main sponsors, former senators John McCain and Russ Feingold. The 2010 court decision Citizens United v. FEC allowing unlimited spending for independent businesses and unions in elections paved the way for “super PACs,” political committees run separately from campaigns that now play an outsized role in elections.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime critic of the 2002 law who was the lead plaintiff in a 2003 Supreme Court case in which justices upheld various provisions, filed brief support for Cruz. McConnell asked judges to take the unusual step of striking down the law in its entirety, including restrictions on political parties’ ability to raise and spend money.

“There’s no reason to let the BCRA limp, no need for more piecemeal surgery by this court: the court should strike down the entire law,” McConnell’s lawyers told the judges .

Although the Biden administration defends the law, no Democratic politician has filed briefs in the case on either side.

Campaign finance watchdogs have backed the FEC in the case, saying lifting the cap would raise political donors’ expectations of official favors by allowing individuals and businesses to donate directly to a winning candidate after on polling day.

Lawyers for Cruz said the provision at issue serves no anti-corruption purpose, noting that campaigns can use donations to repay candidates’ loans ahead of the election.

Like a related provision the Supreme Court struck down in 2008 that allowed contestants to raise more money than normally allowed if their opponent was self-funded, the loan repayment cap was intended to protect incumbents from wealthy challengers. , according to Cruz’s lawyers.

In June 2021, a Washington-based panel of three federal judges unanimously declared the provision unconstitutional.

Cruz unsuccessfully sought his party’s presidential nomination in 2016 and later became a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump.

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Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

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