Roberts also discussed the possibility of misunderstanding bribery by loan repayment as mere speculation when reviewing Section 304, writing that the FEC had been “unable to identify a single case of misunderstanding corruption in this context. Kagan, for his part, took this more seriously. She even recounted a series of state and local scandals where state election laws had no equivalent of Section 304 to show the dangers of abandoning it:
In Ohio, various law firms donated nearly $200,000 to help the newly elected attorney general recover his personal loans. These donors went on to receive more than 200 state contracts worth nearly $10 million in legal fees. In Alaska, a lobbyist raised nearly $100,000 for the post-election repayment of the governor’s personal loans. A company he had a stake in later received a $9 million state contract. In Kentucky, two governors loaned their campaigns millions of dollars, “only to be repaid after the election by contributors seeking no-bid contracts.” The scandal created by these transactions led to a new state campaign finance law similar to Section 304. In upholding this law, a court more aware than this one of how corruption works explained that ” heavily indebted candidates” were “easy bedfellows for quid pro quo”. contributors. »
Roberts, in rebuttal, dismissed these examples as “a handful of media reports and anecdotes”. He also relied on the strict misunderstanding aspect of anti-corruption measures surviving a First Amendment challenge, as opposed to less overt exchanges of money and power. It was not enough for wealthy donors to simply entice a candidate with well-timed donations; they had to explicitly ask for a big bag of money or favors or votes in exchange. “Access and influence ’embody a central feature of democracy – that voters support candidates who share their beliefs and interests, and elected candidates can be expected to address these concerns'”, explained Roberts, citing the court’s decision in the McCutcheon case. . This is great news for those who have enough money to buy access and influence to elected officials. For everyone else, well, good luck.
There is a dark irony in Roberts’ reference to the demolition of various other protections over the past two decades. Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps not, this reversal in the Court’s jurisprudence corresponded to a general breakdown in Americans’ faith in their political systems. Gallup surveys of trust in the three federal branches also show about two decades of decline. Last year, two-thirds of Americans told the Pew Research Center they thought most American politicians were corrupt, and only about a third of Americans said they didn’t think the American political system had need major changes. As the court worries about its own perception in the public mind, it might also be worth considering the damage it has helped cause to other branches along the way.