The Chief Justice wrote that loans played a special role for candidates challenging incumbents.
“In practice, personal loans will sometimes be the only way for an unknown challenger with limited connections to front-load campaign spend,” he wrote. “And early releases—and thus early expression—are critical to a newcomer’s success. A large personal loan can also be a useful tool to signal that the political outsider is confident enough in their campaign to have skin in the game and grab the attention of donors and voters alike.”
Chief Justice Roberts added that the customary $2,900 cap on contributions under the law remained in effect, meaning 86 donations are allowed before the $250,000 cap is reached, undermining the argument that the law fights corruption. .
He said there was no evidence that the law gave rise to corruption, as candidates whose loans are repaid are merely reinstated. “If the candidate didn’t have the money to buy a car before making a loan to his campaign,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “repayment of the loan wouldn’t change that in any way.”
That argument, Judge Kagan wrote in dissent, “goes completely wrong.”
“No matter how much money the candidate had before making a loan to his campaign,” she wrote, “he has less behind it: the amount of the loan is as big as the hole in his bank account. So whatever he could buy with Let’s say $250,000 – certainly a car, but that aside – he can’t buy any longer, until, that is, backers pay him back.”
Judges Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett joined the majority, and Judge Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined the disagreement.
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 three-judge special district court in Washington, arguing that the repayment limit in conflicted with the First Amendment.
Judge Neomi Rao, who usually serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, wrote before a unanimous panel that the limit was an unconstitutional burden on candidates’ free speech.