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Ted Cruz’s Supreme Court case could make it easier for politicians to bribe

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Ted Cruz’s Supreme Court case could make it easier for politicians to bribe

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In the Federal Election Commission’s oral argument against Ted Cruz for the Senate on Wednesday, the new conservative Supreme Court majority gets its first chance to continue undermining the High Court’s anti-corruption protections in our campaign finance laws. elections that began in 2010 with the Citizens United Case.

At issue in the Cruz case is whether candidates can raise unlimited amounts through post-election campaign donations, to be paid directly to themselves in repayment of personal loans. Currently, the FEC places no limit on how much candidates can loan to their campaigns, but it does limit the amount of money campaigns can repay lawmakers to a maximum of $250,000.

The case builds on the problem created by Citizens United allowing black money to potentially have even more opportunities to influence corruption.

The Ted Cruz campaign for Senate took this case to the Supreme Court asking Cruz to intentionally loan out and seek repayment of $260,000 — just $10,000 over the limit — apparently in an effort to argue that the limit violates the First Amendment. The Cruz campaign did not dispute the FEC’s assertion that “the one and only motivation behind Senator Cruz’s actions in granting the 2018 loan and the committee’s actions pending repayment was to establish the basis factual aspect of this challenge”.

In Citizens United, conservative justices in a 5-4 decision demonstrated their interest in using First Amendment free speech protections to undermine the transparency of campaign finance regulations. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy likened regulating corporate donations to “censorship” and said the First Amendment “affirms the freedom to think for ourselves.” He was joined by judges John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

The decision removed any barriers preventing companies and outside groups like PACs from donating money, which ultimately resulted in massive amounts of black money (funds donated by undisclosed sources for the purpose of influencing political results) flooding our elections. Some estimate that black money groups have spent as much as $1 billion since the 2010 Citizens United decision.

While there’s no indication that Cruz did anything corrupt, the case builds on the problem Citizens United created by allowing black money to potentially have even more power. opportunities to influence corruption. Here’s the obvious problem: eliminating limits on how much politicians can reimburse themselves through campaign contributions removes the distinction between campaign contributions and paying candidates.

Strict rules prevent pre-election donations from going directly into a candidate’s pocket, but a post-election donation used to repay a candidate’s loan effectively goes directly into the candidate’s pocket, the only limit to this enrichment being the ceiling of $250,000. Remove that limit and you may now be talking real money which creates a much greater potential for corrupt influence.

Another issue is interest. As your credit card company knows, the more you owe, the higher the interest. These profits can add up quickly, even when legislators lend smaller sums to their campaigns. FEC guidelines for charging interest require it to be a “commercially reasonable rate.” But removing any dollar cap on the amount of a loan would allow huge profits to be made even at reasonable single-digit interest rates. Is this how we want our political candidates to make money?

Then there’s the problem of a deep-pocketed black money donor who potentially offers to arrange a huge personal loan for a politician, not exactly out of kindness but for the sole purpose of the politician turning around and lending the campaign money. . That same donor – whether an individual, corporation or PAC – could then also donate to the campaign as a regular supporter after the election. When you factor in the potential interest that can be charged on the money a candidate donates to their own campaign, that’s a lot of money that could line a politician’s pockets.

Suppose wealthy donors, corporations, and PACs can put unlimited money directly into the pockets of lawmakers under the pretense of repaying loans when this is really a means of influencing the policy agendas of lawmakers. In this case, the potential for misconduct is increased exponentially compared to a system in which at least some dollar limit is imposed.

Unlike the makeup of the high court that decided the Citizens United case in 2010, today’s court has a rock-solid Conservative majority. It is headed by Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – three new Tory justices at the height of their intellectual powers and eager to make their mark on High Court case law.

While there seems little doubt that the new majority will lean toward using the First Amendment to advance conservative agendas, as it did recently in the vaccine mandate affair, the bigger question is to know why conservative justices seem to constantly undermine the fight against corruption. safeguards in our system.

Like the reduction in the theft of honest services and bribery prosecutions that stemmed from the 2016 court decision to overturn former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s bribery conviction, the conservative bloc of court seems determined to allow only the grossest and most egregious type of bribery to be prohibited.

Of course, scenarios in which politicians are recorded receiving bags of money and saying they will use it to power their offices in certain ways because they have been paid would be likely to be condemned by judges. conservatives. As in the case of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison for trying to sell President Barack Obama’s vacant seat (Donald Trump later commuted his sentence) . Unless something like this happens again, the judges seem to have a blind spot.

One explanation could be that conservative judges live in a bubble and truly believe people’s innate good nature will prevent corruption from happening and that no government intervention is needed. A more insidious explanation would be that, whether through explicit bias, implicit bias, or a mixture of the two, these conservatives seek to protect and enact a system by which the wealthy and powerful established can retain power.

The fact that they do so under the guise of protecting constitutional rights is particularly alarming. As has been so often said, our Constitution is a living document dynamically interpreted by each successive generation. Since Marbury v. Madison of 1803, the Supreme Court asserted its right to be the ultimate arbiter of constitutionality, and this power made the High Court a super-legislature. It is time to question this role or at least look for checks and balances to this power.

Ted Cruz’s Supreme Court case could make it easier for politicians to bribe

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