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Volume 108, Issue 6


The Unique Appearance of Corruption in Personal Loan Repayments

John J. Martin

Research Assistant Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law.

3 Nov 2023

Under U.S. campaign finance jurisprudence, electoral candidates have the right to self-fund their campaigns without limitation. The majority of self-funded candidates do so by issuing personal loans—i.e., personal money given to their campaign with the expectation of having it paid back. Many such candidates rely on outside contributions to help repay these personal loans, leaving them susceptible to partaking in corrupt quid pro quo exchanges.

To counter this risk, many jurisdictions have implemented personal loan repayment limits (“PLRL”s), which regulate the extent to which candidates can rely on contributions to recover the funds they loaned to their campaigns. Up until recently, PLRLs were seen as straightforward anticorruption measures justified by the government’s interest in reducing the actuality and, importantly for this Article, the appearance of corruption in our democratic institutions.

Nevertheless, in May 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal PLRL governing congressional elections— Section 304 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002— in the case FEC. v. Ted Cruz for Senate, finding that the Federal Election Commission had not demonstrated a unique anticorruption interest. This latest instance of judicial deregulation of campaign finance by the Roberts Court will almost certainly lead to a surge in litigation challenging similar laws in state and local jurisdictions.

By conducting a comprehensive survey consisting of 2,428 participants, however, this Article finds that PLRLs are in fact quite defensible in a post-Cruz world. Indeed, survey respondents perceived a significantly greater likelihood of quid pro quo corruption when a candidate receives a contributions to repay personal loans as opposed to covering campaign expenses. Such a finding provides empirical support for a distinctive appearance of corruption in personal loan repayments, which in turn strengthens the government’s interest in regulating them. This Article thus contributes to the campaign finance literature by offering a vital first quantitative look into exactly how personal loan repayments affect the public’s perception of corruption.

To read this Article, please click here: The Unique Appearance of Corruption in Personal Loan Repayments.