U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Publicly Funded Arizona Elections


The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review two cases challenging Arizona’s system of public financing for political campaigns.

The court will review a provision of the law that gives candidates extra public dollars when their privately funded opponents spend more, according to the Arizona Daily Star, Bloomberg News and the Associated Press. The law is intended to even out campaign financing, Bloomberg explains.

A federal judge in Phoenix had ruled that the system violates the First Amendment rights of candidates to finance their own campaigns or use private donations, but the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and upheld the finance law.

A press release by the Institute for Justice says Arizona’s system of publicly funded campaigns is “one of the broadest campaign finance regimes in the nation.” The IJ represents a PAC and others opposing the law in one of the two consolidated cases.

The press release quotes Paul Avelar, an attorney with the Institute for Justice’s Arizona chapter. “The system is set up to punish those the government believes are speaking too much, while subsidizing those it believes are speaking too little,” he said. “In a free society, the government has no business micromanaging how citizens debate, of all things, who should run the government.”

It’s possible the ruling won’t be a broad one, SCOTUSblog says. “Although election law experts regard the new cases as a major test of the entire concept of public financing of candidacies, it is unclear whether the final ruling will sweep that broadly,” the blog says. “For example, the federal program of public grants to presidential candidates, if they abide by spending limits, is not an attempt to equalize the competition for the presidency, while Arizona’s program and similar programs in other states have that specific goal at their center.”

The cases are Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett.

Related coverage:

Loyola Law School’s faculty blog, Summary Judgments: “The Big Campaign Finance Story of 2011: An Effective End to Public Financing”

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