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Court Hands Ted Cruz a Win Over Federal Election Commission

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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion


Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has picked up a big win against the Federal Election Commission.

Cruz won his battle with the FEC over a law that limits a candidate’s ability to pay off personal loans made to a campaign.

The ruling came from a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

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The lawsuit challenged a piece of election law that says campaigns cannot use post-election donations to repay anything more than $250,000 in personal loans advanced by a candidate.

Cruz had put $260,000 of his own money into his 2018 campaign.

Although he was repaid $250,000 of that, the section of law Cruz challenged blocked him from getting the other $10,000.

Cruz sued on First Amendment grounds, and in a 31-page ruling, the court ruled that Section 304 of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act violated the free speech rights of the Texas Republican.

“We find that the loan-repayment limit burdens political speech and thus implicates the protection of the First Amendment,” Judge Neomi Rao wrote in the ruling.

The FEC had argued that limiting what a candidate could raise post-election to repay a loan was a guard against corruption.

That argument failed to convince the judges.

“Because the government has failed to demonstrate that the loan-repayment limit serves an interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption, or that the limit is sufficiently tailored to serve this purpose, the loan-repayment limit runs afoul of the First Amendment,” she wrote.

“A candidate’s loan to his campaign is an expenditure that may be used for expressive acts,” Rao wrote.

“Such expressive acts are burdened when a candidate is inhibited from making a personal loan, or incurring one, out of concern that she will be left holding the bag on any unpaid campaign debt.”

“When it comes to campaign finance regulation, the foxes are effectively in charge of the political henhouse, because elected officials set the rules for future elections,” Rao wrote.

“The Constitution, however, does not leave our liberties to the foxes. Laws regulating political speech implicate First Amendment rights essential to a free democracy, and courts have an independent duty to scrutinize the government’s interest as well as the means chosen to realize it.”

“Congress may regulate political speech only to prevent the specific problem of quid pro quo corruption. The loan-repayment limit does not serve that interest, and the government’s arguments to the contrary boil down to hypothetical concerns about influence and access to incumbents,” she went on.

“Such justifications are not sufficient under the First Amendment to uphold a statute that burdens political speech. The loan-repayment limit intrudes on fundamental rights of speech and association without serving a substantial government interest.”

Last month, the FEC dropped its inquiry into Donald Trump’s alleged payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

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The Commission is comprised of six members: three Republicans, two Democrats, and one independent.

The case was dropped after a 2-2 vote.

Both Democrats voted that the case against Trump should proceed; two of the Republicans voted to drop the inquiry; the other Republican recused himself from the case, and the Independent did not vote.

Thus, the case was dropped because there was no majority.

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