"Clean Elections" Matching Funds Provision Seems Doomed in U.S. Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday to determine whether Arizona's "Clean Elections" system -- most notably, the "matching funds" section of the law -- violates the U.S. Constitution, and based on initial reports about the hearings, things aren't looking good for its supporters.

If you're unfamiliar with "Clean Elections" click here.

The main objection to the law by its opponents is that the matching-funds system violates a candidate's right to free speech. They say it inhibits a privately funded candidate's fundraising and spending, plus limits what voters will hear about the campaign because there's no incentive to raise and spend money on things like campaign ads.

Chief Justice John Roberts seems to agree.

"The effect may well be . . . 'I'm not going to spend the money,' and so the other candidates don't get the money, and you have less speech," the chief justice reportedly said during the hearing.

Under the system, publicly funded candidates are given lump sums for their campaigns. If an opponent spends his or her own money, and exceeds the initial lump sum, "clean" -- or publicly funded -- candidates get matching funds from the government to "level the playing field."

The idea that the law is a way to "level the playing field" is deemed very important by the court.

From the Wall Street Journal:

The case turns on the fine line the court has drawn in campaign finance law, which permits measures that fight political corruption, but bars those intended to "level the playing field" among candidates. That came into sharp relief in one exchange, when William Maurer (an attorney representing those opposed to the law) said the Arizona law's purpose is "to level the playing field."

"I think the purpose of this law is to prevent corruption," interjected Justice Elena Kagan.

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on some issues, has formed a solid block with other conservatives as they have rolled back campaign-finance regulations. He seemed inclined to do so again Monday.

The court is expected to make its decision by the end of June.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
James King
Contact: James King