Arizona Clean Elections Law struck down by U.S. high court; ballot measure uncertain

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June 28, 2011


By Al Ortiz

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia: On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona's Clean Elections Act was a violation of the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money for their campaigns. The law was struck down by the court, in a 5 to 4 decision, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing for the majority: "Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand."[1]

The Clean Elections Act, that was approved by voters in 1998, mandates that public funds be provided to a candidate (Candidate A) if his or her opponent, Candidate B, is running on private funds and outspends them. If Candidate B spends more money than the public funds given to Candidate A, that would trigger additional public funding to Candidate A.[2]

Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the initial challenge to the law on March 28, 2011. The case is officially called McComish v. Bennett, referring to State Senator John McComish, who stated that the clean elections law has had a "chilling" effect on races.[3]

According to Campaign Legal Center's Gerry Hebert and Tara Malloy in a written statement at that time, "The [ U.S. Supreme Court ] case could have a broad impact on federal and state efforts to create alternative methods for funding election campaigns. Depending on its scope, an adverse ruling from the high court could undermine public financing systems across the country and increase still further the grossly disproportionate voice given to corporations and unions in our elections."

Read the official Supreme Court ruling here.

It is unclear as to what is to happen with a ballot measure that is scheduled for public vote in the 2012 general election. The measure, if approved, would also ban the law.

The ballot question was originally proposed for the November 2, 2010 general election ballot in Arizona, but fell short in legislative session. The current measure for the 2012 ballot was authored by State Senator Steve Pierce, and was approved by the state legislature during 2011 state legislative session.

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