“The ability to lend money to a campaign is especially important for new candidates and challengers. As a practical matter, personal loans will sometimes be the only way for an unknown challenger with limited connections to front-load campaign spending,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. The majority opinion was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—the last three of whom were confirmed by Cruz.
“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,” Roberts added.
The $250,000 limit, which was part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly called the McCain-Feingold Act, allows politicians to repay themselves for money loaned to their campaigns before Election Day, or no more than 20 days after, HuffPost reports.
This rule was designed to limit the influence of donors who help pay off the winning candidate’s campaign debts in the hopes of receiving something in return.
In her dissent, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan noted the risk of dishonest campaign finance in overturning the limitations.
Kagan described a scene that laid bare the possibility of serious misconduct.
“The politician solicits donations from wealthy individuals and corporate lobbyists, making clear that the money they give will go straight from the campaign to him, as repayment for his loan. He is deeply grateful to those who help, as they know he will be—more grateful than for ordinary campaign contributions (which do not increase his personal wealth). And as they paid him, so he will pay them. In the coming months and years, they receive government benefits—may be favorable legislation, maybe prized appointments, maybe lucrative contracts. The politician is happy; the donors are happy. The only loser is the public. It inevitably suffers from government corruption,” Kagan’s opinion reads.
The majority contends that the limitation on the loans could dissuade candidates from loaning themselves money for their campaigns.
“Restricting the sources of funds that campaigns may use to repay candidate loans increases the risk that such loans will not be repaid in full, which, in turn, deters candidates from loaning money to their campaigns,” the opinion reads. “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, Section 304 raises a barrier to entry—thus abridging political speech.”