A bill introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) would “allow unlimited direct contributions by citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States to candidates in Federal elections.” That quote is not from a commentator critical of the bill. Nor is it from a policy analysis explaining the bill’s effects. That’s actually a quote from the text of the bill itself. If nothing else, the Tea Party senator isn’t trying to hide the ball here.
Yet, while Cruz is quite upfront about his bill’s intentions in the text of the legislation, the title of the bill is more misleading — Cruz named his legislation allowing billionaires to write unlimited checks to political candidates the “SuperPAC Elimination Act of 2014.” Eliminating all limits on campaign donations would indeed deal a serious blow to the continued viability of SuperPACs, which are a mechanism high-dollar donors use to evade the still-existing limits on donations directly to candidates, but it would deal this blow because there is little reason to evade a limit that no longer exists.
Although the Supreme Court has largely eliminated restrictions on wealthy individuals and corporations who want to use their fortunes to influence elections, the Court currently still permits campaign finance regulation that targets a very narrowly defined form of corruption. Federal or state legislation may still target so-called “quid pro quo” corruption, where a donor offers “dollars for political favors,” even under this Supreme Court’s very narrow view of what kinds of campaign finance legislation is permissible. For this reason, the Roberts Court still allows limits on the amount of money that can be given directly to candidates — as opposed to donations to outside groups such as SuperPACs — because a donor who writes a massive check to a politician is particularly likely to secure political favors in return.
Cruz’s bill, however, would eliminate one of the few forms of campaign finance regulation that Roberts Court deems acceptable — or, at least, that it finds acceptable for the time being.