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Supreme Court hears Sen. Cruz campaign finance challenge

Cruz succeeded on his claim in a federal court last summer, which ruled in his favor that the $250,000 cap violated his right to free speech.

The United States Supreme Court Building
The United States Supreme Court Building | Shutterstock

January 19, 2022 10:55pm

Updated: January 20, 2022 2:18pm

The Supreme Court wrestled over a campaign finance case brought by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that challenges the amount of money candidates can raise after an election to repay personal debts from that election. 

What is being contested is a section of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that restricts the amount of money to $250,000 that a candidate can raise post-election to repay personal loans made to that campaign, which Cruz and his lawyers argue violates the First Amendment.

Specifically, Cruz put $260,000 of his own money into his 2018 Senate reelection campaign. He filed a challenge with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as he attempted to repay himself in excess of the federal limit.

Charles Cooper, a lawyer for Cruz, told justices that post-election donations to candidates for personal debts were no more a risk for corruption than donations during a campaign.

Moderate liberal Justice Elena Kagan disputed this, arguing that donations put toward a candidate’s personal debt were effectively direct payments.

Cooper argued more broadly that such a cap chilled free speech and a candidate’s willingness to take out personal loans to get one’s message out, which he said put challengers at a disadvantage against incumbents.

Malcolm Stewart, a Justice Department lawyer who argued on behalf of the FEC, called Cruz’s case “self-inflicted” and “manufactured."

“That deliberate self-infliction of an injury, for no purpose other than to facilitate litigation, severed the causal link between the challenged laws and Senator Cruz's injury,” Stewart said, making the case that Cruz lacked the standing to sue.

At least four justices appeared skeptical of Stewart’s claim, including the liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“I do have difficulty understanding this ‘manufacture’ business because he wasn't precluded from contributing to his campaign, so he could,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told Stewart. “He was only precluded from repaying it from certain funds. And so I don't know that this is a manufactured injury as such.”

Questions posed by justices over the 90-minute hearing did not clearly signal an outcome, but the justices seemed split along ideological lines in the 6-3 conservative majority court.

Cruz succeeded on his claim in a federal court last summer, which ruled in his favor that the $250,000 cap violated his right to free speech. The FEC then appealed to the Supreme Court.

A decision in the case, FEC vs. Ted Cruz for Senate, is expected by this summer.