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US Supreme Court to rule on Arizona Public Financing System for Elections

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December 3, 2010

By Kyle Maichle

PHOENIX, Arizona: The U.S. Supreme Court recently accepted a case challenging Arizona's laws that seek to limit campaign spending[1].

Arizona Libertarians challenged the Arizona Clean Elections Act over the matching funds clause in the law. Libertarians claim that the matching funds clause unfairly punishes candidates who raise campaign funds privately. The acceptance of the case comes after the nation's highest court blocked the State of Arizona from distributing matching funds to candidates in June of 2010[1].

The Arizona Clean Election Act was approved by the state's voters in 1998 as Proposition 200. Under the law, any candidate can take public funds if they forego private fundraising. Candidates can receive matching funds if they are going up against a well-funded opponent. The San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a challenge to completely reverse the law in 2009[1].

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs feel that the nation's highest court could strike down the law over a similar ruling in 2008 involving the "Millionaire's Amendment" in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. In the case of Davis vs. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down the amendment because free speech rights would be violated if the FEC equalized campaign spending. The amendment is similar to Arizona's matching funds clause because a candidate running for federal office could receive more money if they were against a well-funded opponent[1].

Attorneys for the Goldwater Institute, who will argue the case for the plaintiffs, feel that they have a shot of getting the law reversed. Clint Bolick, who represents the Institute, said: "we're ecstatic that we have a chance to put an end to the worst features of taxpayer subsidies for politicians." Bolick also said: "the matching-funds system brazenly violates the First Amendment right of candidates to speak without having government put its thumb on the scale for their opponents."[1]

The Brennan Center for Justice argues that Arizona's Clean Elections Act is a national model for public financing laws. Michael Waldman, the Executive Director for the Center, said that the law: "helped move the state beyond egregious corruption and recurrent scandal...This law has boosted speech while combating corruption."[1]

Oral arguments in the case are expected to be heard in the Spring of 2011. A decision will be released by the Summer of 2011[1].

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