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The Supreme Court Basically Just Handed Ted Cruz Half a Million Dollars (and Also Legalized Political Bribery)

Ted Cruz leaves a Republican campaign event outdoors

The Supreme Court took a short break from robbing us of our reproductive rights today to make the country worse in a different way: by making it really, really easy to bribe lawmakers.

The court ruled 6–3 Monday to strike down a longstanding campaign finance law that put limits on how much money political candidates can raise after an election to pay themselves back for campaign costs. That amount used to be $250,000 but now, thanks to Ted Cruz, that limit has been lifted.

Vox’s Ian Millhiser explains:

Federal law permits candidates to loan money to their campaigns. In 2001, however, Congress prohibited campaigns from repaying more than $250,000 of these loans using funds raised after the election. They can repay as much as they want from campaign donations received before the election (although a federal regulation required them to do so “within 20 days of the election”).

The idea is that, if already-elected officials can solicit donations to repay what is effectively their own personal debt, lobbyists and others seeking to influence lawmakers can put money directly into the elected official’s pocket — and campaign donations that personally enrich a lawmaker are particularly likely to lead to corrupt bargains. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) manufactured a case to try to overturn that $250,000 limit, and now, the Court has sided with him.

In 2018, Cruz lent himself $260,000—$10,000 over the legal limit—deliberately to bait the Federal Elections Commission into suing him so that he could challenge the statute in court. And now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of him in the case of FEC v Ted Cruz for Senate, he can recoup that $10,000 as well as another $545,000 he loaned his campaign in 2012.

Millhiser writes: “Indeed, now that this limit on loan repayments has been struck down, lawmakers with sufficiently creative accountants may be able to use such loans to give themselves a steady income stream from campaign donors.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissenting opinion for the case and it is scathing, warning of the door this opens to deep corruption and that the decision “can only bring this country’s political system into further disrepute”—something those conservative justices have claimed to care an awful lot about lately.

“In striking down the law today, the Court greenlights all the sordid bargains Congress thought right to stop,” Kagan writes.

(image: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.