Newly released documents reveal that when he was serving in the White House under President George W. Bush, Brett Kavanaugh suggested that he thought candidate contribution limits have "some constitutional problems."
Contribution limits -- currently set at $2,700 per individual per election -- were upheld in a 1976 Supreme Court case called Buckley v. Valeo, and they have remained intact even as the court has subsequently struck down an array of other state and federal campaign finance regulations.
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Kavanaugh's comments will raise questions during his confirmation hearings from Democrats who support campaign finance regulation. The release of the documents will also likely trigger complaints from critics of Kavanaugh, who argue that they need more time and more access to the thousands of pages of his emails held at the Bush library.
"Judge Kavanaugh's views on campaign finance are already pretty well-known," said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law. "But these emails suggest that he'd go farther in striking down these regulations than the court has to date. It's hard to imagine this not becoming a point of some contention at next week's confirmation hearing."
The documents, released Friday night before a three-day weekend, depict an email exchange between Kavanaugh and Helgard Walker, who also worked in the Bush White House.
"I have heard very few people say that the limits on contributions to candidates are unconstitutional, although I for one tend to think those limits have some constitutional problems," Kavanaugh wrote in a March 6, 2002, email.
"If he were to take that position as a Supreme Court justice he would be voting to overturn long-established precedent," said Fred Wertheimer, who supports campaign finance limits and is president of a nonprofit group called Democracy 21.
"The rationale for candidate contribution limits is that they prevent corruption -- if Kavanaugh were to oppose contribution limits, he would be willing to open the door to massive corruption of our elected officials," he said.
The documents had already been released to the Senate Judiciary Committee on a "Committee Confidential" basis. But committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent a letter to his colleagues last week telling them he would consider requests from members identifying confidential documents they wish to use during the hearings as long as the requests were "reasonable."
The documents in question were requested by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, according to a release from the Judiciary Committee.