U.S. Supreme Court Hears Matching Funds Arguments. Decision Not Expected Until June

The United States Supreme Court is listening to arguments today to determine whether Arizona's "Clean Elections" system violates the U.S. Constitution.

The system was a hot topic during last year's election cycle because several candidates -- including Governor Jan Brewer and former Treasurer Dean Martin -- were running as publicly funded, or "clean," candidates. The court decided in June to put a halt to the matching-funds section of the system until justices could rule on whether it infringed on a candidate's right to free speech.

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.

It was a big deal in the GOP gubernatorial primary because candidate Buz Mills was droppin' loads of cash into his campaign, which meant his opponents running as "clean" candidates were given matching public funds to fuel theirs.

In other words, candidates like Brewer and Martin could sit back and let Mills blow his wad on his campaign while they reaped the benefits -- on the taxpayers' dime.

Opponents of the matching-funds system say it 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.

At the time of the June ruling, a lawyer for the group spearheading the move to do away with it told New Times he believed the court would rule in his favor.  

"This ruling vindicates the right of traditionally funded candidates to run their campaigns without the heavy hand of government helping their opponents," Nick Dranias, lead attorney on the case for the Goldwater Institute, told New Times.

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

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James King
Contact: James King