U.S. Supreme Court Puts Kibosh on Arizona's Matching Funds

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning that the matching funds portion of Arizona's "Clean Elections" system is unconstitutional, meaning candidates in next year's election will not be given taxpayer money to match funds raised by their opponents.

Under the matching funds 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.

Opponents of the system, including the Goldwater Institute, which spearheaded the move to do away with the 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.

Five of the court's nine members agreed with the Goldwater Institute.

According to the Goldwater Institute, the court found that "any increase in speech resulting from the Arizona law is of one kind and one kind only: that of publicly financed candidates. The burden imposed on privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups reduces their speech."

The Supreme Court added: "The First amendment embodies our choice as a Nation that, when it comes to [campaign] speech, the guiding principle is freedom---the 'unfettered exchange of ideas'---not whatever the State may view as fair."

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.

Matching funds was particularly 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.

"This decision protects democratic elections and gets government's heavy thumb off the scale," Nick Dranias, the Goldwater Institute's director of constitutional studies and the lead attorney in the case, says.
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James King
Contact: James King