Costs, Campaigns, and Cruz: Implications of the Recent Supreme Court Case

Written By: Jamie McLennan

In January 2022, the Supreme Court heard the case, Federal Election Committee v. Ted Cruz for Senate. Senator Ted Cruz challenged Section 304 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act. Section 304 limited the amount a political candidate could raise post-election, whether they win or lose, to repay personal contributions spent on their campaign. The maximum allowance was $250,000. However, Senator Cruz loaned his 2018 reelection campaign $260,000, purposely spending over the maximum limit. He then sued the Federal Election Committee for the additional $10,000 and challenged Section 304 as an unconstitutional restriction to campaign speech.

The Supreme Court published the decision on May 16, 2022 and struck down the federal cap on candidates using political contributions to repay personal campaign loans. The 6-3 decision written by Chief Justice Roberts, argued that the federal law limited political speech with no proper justification. Consequently, political candidates can make unlimited personal contributions to their campaigns and expect repayment from other donors. This decision radically impacts political candidacy and how candidates raise and spend campaign funds.

The Arguments
The majority opinion argued that Section 304 unfairly limited a political candidate’s right to speech because making a personal loan to their campaign is an expressive act. Any federal cap that limited such speech would be a violation of the Constitution. In addition, the majority also noted that all individuals should have the opportunity to jumpstart their campaign and that personal debt is a financing tool.

Justice Kagan writing for the dissent argued that without Section 304, candidates know their campaign loans are directly repaid by those who donate after they win, which can raise serious questions of corruption and bribery. The $250,000 cap prevented individuals from raising substantial funds post-victory because many contributors could expect “official favors” from the newly elected candidate. For example, a candidate with $500,000 in personal campaign debt could be more likely to accept “quid pro” donations in fear that they will not recoup the personal amounts spent to win the election. These donations could include favorable legislation, lucrative governmental contracts, or appointments.

The Implications
Nearly twelve years after the landmark case, Citizens United—which allowed corporations to spend unlimited funds on elections— the Supreme Court continues to expand campaign finance. And similar to Citizens United, this decision will shape how political candidates raise money, with the prediction of huge personal donations later repaid by influential voters.

The Supreme Court’s expansive jurisprudence for campaign finance shows disapproval of Congressional legislation that has now been struck down twice by the Court. This disapproval raises a broader question of how long Congress will concede to actions by the judiciary that develop campaign finance in contrast to previously enacted legislation. Congress repeatedly referenced political corruption and bribery when passing the McCain-Feingold Act. However, the Supreme Court now argues that the legislative justifications are non-existent and instead impede an individual’s right to political speech.

Also, the Court’s opinion is not likely shared by the broader public, who often demand political transparency and accountability. In a time where many voters reject an elitist candidate, we are likely to see political figures more frequently rely on their wealth to jumpstart or save a political career. Without any limitations, wealthy candidates can continuously donate and raise campaign funds, even after the election ends. During the close Texas Senatorial 2018 election, Senator Cruz donated to his election to surpass his opponent, Beto O’Rourke. Senator Cruz won the 2018 election and can now recoup his $260,000 loan, even with a net worth of $44 million.

With the ever-growing costs of political candidacy, campaign finance is at the forefront of legal discussion and regulation. Starting at Citizens United, the Supreme Court strongly protected campaign donation as political speech. Moving forward, Federal Elections Committee v. Cruz reiterates many of the same first amendment protections but also highlights a stark contrast between how the judiciary, legislature, and the voters feel about personal contributions to political campaigns.


Brief for Petitioner at 27–28, Fed. Elections Comm. v. Ted Cruz for Senate (No. 21-12) (2021).

Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm., 558 U.S. 310 (2010).

Fed. Election Comm. v. Ted Cruz for Senate, 596 U.S. _ (2021).

FFC v. Ted Cruz for Senate, Scotusblog (May 16, 2022).

Jimmy Hoover, Justices Side with Ted Cruz Over Candidate Loan Rule, Law 360 (May 16, 2022).

U.S. Const. amend. I.