The U.S. Supreme Court this morning put a halt to the matching funds portion of Arizona's Clean Elections program.
The decision blocks matching funds for publicly funded candidates until the Supreme Court either hears the case brought before it or decides not to review it. This almost certainly means matching funds will not play in this fall's elections.
And it means that publicly funded candidates, such as Governor Jan Brewer and state Treasurer Dean Martin, must look somewhere other than the public piggy bank if they want to keep up with the campaign spending of Owen "Buz" Mills, a privately funded candidate who's been makin' it rain all over the campaign trail to the tune of $2.3 million as of May 31.
Under Arizona's "clean elections" system, publicly funded candidates were given lump sums for their campaigns. If an opponent like Mills spends his own money, and exceeds the initial lump sum, "clean" candidates got matching funds to level the playing field.
The high court's ruling doesn't block the initial lump-sum payment, just the matching funds.
And it isn't the end of the road for matching funds, just a temporary halt until justices decide on the merits of the program, which won't happen until the court's next session begins on October 4.
Even if the court rules the program is constitutional, it will almost certainly be too late for any candidate to use matching funds during this election cycle.
"This ruling vindicates the right of traditionally funded candidates to run their campaigns without the heavy hand of government helping their opponents," says Nick
Dranias, the lead attorney on the case for the Goldwater Institute, the organization that filed the suit.
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Supporters of the law aren't nearly as excited.
"I am extremely disappointed in the court's decision," Todd Lang, executive director for the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, says in a statement. "To take an action such as this so late in an election cycle is unprecedented. Matching Funds result in more speech and political debate, not less. While this is a step back in the protection of the freedom of speech, it will not halt the progress Clean Elections has made over the last decade."
Brewer and Martin each stood to get about $1.4 million from the public fund to "match" Mills' expenditures, but because of the court's ruling, the two will only get the cash they initially scored from the program -- about $700,000 each.
Calls to Martin and Mills were not immediately returned this morning.