The chief justice wrote that loans played a special role for candidates challenging incumbents.
“As a practical matter, personal loans will sometimes be the only way for an unknown challenger with limited connections to front-load campaign spending,” he wrote. “And early spending — and thus early expression — is critical to a newcomer’s success. A large personal loan also may be a useful tool to signal that the political outsider is confident enough in his campaign to have skin in the game, attracting the attention of donors and voters alike.”
Chief Justice Roberts added that the usual $2,900 cap on contributions continued to apply under the law, meaning that 86 donations are permitted before reaching the $250,000 limit, undercutting the argument that the law combats corruption.
He said there was no evidence that the law gave rise to corruption, as candidates whose loans are repaid are merely being made whole. “If the candidate did not have the money to buy a car before he made a loan to his campaign,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “repayment of the loan would not change that in any way.”
That argument, Justice Kagan wrote in dissent, “altogether misses the point.”
“However much money the candidate had before he makes a loan to his campaign,” she wrote, “he has less after it: The amount of the loan is the size of the hole in his bank account. So whatever he could buy with, say, $250,000 — surely a car, but that’s beside the point — he cannot buy any longer. Until, that is, donors pay him back.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined the majority opinion, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined the dissent.
The case, Federal Election Commission v. Ted Cruz for Senate, No. 21-12, arose from a lawsuit that Mr. Cruz filed against the commission before a special three-judge district court in Washington, arguing that the repayment cap violated the First Amendment.
Judge Neomi Rao, who ordinarily sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, wrote for a unanimous panel that the cap amounted to an unconstitutional burden on candidates’ free speech rights.
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