Editorial | Hey Supreme Court, wealthy politicians shouldn’t get the upper hand


(AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

It’s a dark day in American politics when the highest court in the land sides with Sen. Ted Cruz. 

For those of you who haven’t heard the preposterous news, a new Supreme Court ruling on Monday determined that money is a valid and necessary form of speech for political candidates. Sen. Cruz, TX-R, challenged federal law that dictates limits on how much money — $250,000 in the case of the law —  political campaigns can repay candidates for funding they personally lent their campaigns. 

The 6-3 court decision divided along, what Adam Liptak of the New York Times characterizes as, the Justices’ ideological lines. Liptak summarized the challenge’s premise by stating, “The basic dispute was whether contributions to winning candidates to repay personal loans to their campaigns were a form of political speech or a kind of gift with the potential to corrupt.” 

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the majority opinion that the challenged law “burdens core political speech without proper justification” by having a maximum contribution cap — thus, by that logic, violating the First Amendment.

By Roberts recognizing the limitations on a candidate with restricted funds, yet not acknowledging money as the problematic feature of running a successful campaign, he conveys a paradox of sorts. The opinion seems to ignore the potential for familiar repercussions for these types of finance rulings — like those witnessed in the aftermath of the Citizens United v. FEC

This decision gives increased weight and ability to candidates with the most personal funds, all while ignoring the growing divide in the American wealth gap. Ruling in favor of Cruz — a senator with a net worth of $3.1 million as of 2018, putting him well within the top 1% of wealthiest Americans — demonstrates how wealthy politicians are able to make major strides in shaping the nation’s political landscape, all to the disservice of the general public. 

The wealthiest candidates will run the widest reaching campaigns and have the greater ability to influence and persuade amongst their competitors. Therefore, most elected positions will continue to be filled by the wealthiest candidates. Critics, including those on the Court’s bench, believe that this gives way to the opposite of what the majority opinion claims this ruling will make corruption easier.

In the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan asserted that the law was implemented to prevent corruption. “All the money does is enrich the candidate personally at a time when he can return the favor — by a vote, a contract, an appointment. It takes no political genius to see the heightened risk of corruption,” Kagan said.

Representatives at any level of government are meant to represent the people’s interests. When money is factored into how candidates campaign and spread their message, it begins to manipulate an election cycle. The Brennan Center outlines that the fairest way for campaigns to be funded is through small-donor public funding and stronger disclosure laws. Transparency, legitimacy and equity should be at the forefront of all elections, but unfortunately the past several years have revealed how that is not always the case in American politics.