Editorial Roundup: Campaign finance ruling a back door to bribery

Published 8:50 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court has, slowly but surely, whittled away at laws intended to curb official corruption.

Its latest blow to clean government came Monday when it overturned a federal law limiting how much money a congressional candidate can raise after winning election to repay a personal loan to his campaign. In Federal Election Commission vs. Ted Cruz for Senate, the court’s conservative majority held that restricting such post-election payments was a violation of the First Amendment.

Political speech is, of course, the primary purpose behind protecting the freedom of expression. But just as the right to free speech does not extend to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, it also does not — or at least should not — protect bribery.

Monday’s ruling, as pointed out in Elena Kagan’s dissent, allows donors to give money that will go to the personal finances of a sitting officeholder. And it will go to an officeholder who presumably has a financial interest in seeing his or her assets, reduced by the personal loan, restored.

It is, in short, a backdoor to bribery.

Not that this court seems overly concerned about that risk. In 2016 Chief Justice John Roberts (who wrote for the majority in the Cruz case) wrote the ruling in the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell, overturning his conviction in a corruption case in which the governor and his wife solicited loans and gifts after which the governor intervened on the donors’ behalf. The standard employed in McConnell makes it nearly impossible to establish even a narrow pro quid pro.

Monday’s ruling is not quite so bribery-blessing as McConnell, but it is still troublesome. At least two of the leading candidates in next week’s special primaries for the vacant 1st District congressional seat are largely self-funded, so the Cruz ruling may turn out to have specific local ramifications.

Perhaps underlying the court’s decades-long drive to reduce corruption curbs is its makeup, which is largely devoid of personal experience in elections, campaigns or legislating. Roberts has repeatedly fretted, in opinions and in questions during court hearings, that prosecuting influence peddling would undermine the routines of politics and government. We suspect that would be a feature, not a bug.

Mankato Free Press, May 19

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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