Clean Elections Matching Funds Update: Goldwater Tries to Stop the Stay

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver put an end to all-important "matching funds" provisions in Arizona's clean elections system, saying that -- absent a stay from the appellate court -- publicly funded candidates will only get a set amount of money this year.

This week, the appellate court offered a temporary stay, saying that for at least the next five to 10 days, matching funds are okay.

The only problem? It's too early in the election cycle for anyone to get matching funds. So the "stay," clearly designed to limit confusion while the appellate court figures things out, is actually causing quite a bit more confusion. Does it mean the appeals court will allow matching funds? Does it mean people should stop raising more money, for fear of a match?

Does it mean anything???

Welcome to the confusing world of election law in Arizona in 2010. Here, it's not enough that the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that will allow major changes in how corporations and unions get to weigh in during the political process. Here, we've got our own set of issues to sort out.

Under Arizona's Clean Elections system, candidates receive government funding for their political campaigns as long as they meet some basic requirements. But candidates could also choose to raise money in traditional ways, by hitting up donors or using their own money. If a "Clean" candidate faces an opponent who raises money the traditional way, they're given matching funds to "level" the playing field -- $1 for every dollar that the traditional candidate raises.

Thanks to a lawsuit from the Goldwater Institute, Judge Silver tossed out those matching funds last Wednesday, saying they "chill" traditional donors' First Amendment rights and are therefore unconstitutional.

Clean Elections backers appealed, asking the appellate court to "stay" Judge Silver's order. The court has yet to rule on the merits but agreed to stay the order for at least five days while it figures out what everything means.

The Goldwater Institute says the five-to-10-day holdup is merely causing more issues. Earlier today, attorney Nick Dranias filed an emergency request to vacate the temporary stay.

Dranias notes that Judge Silver made her intentions clear more than 16 months ago.

"Expectations had been so well-settled that matching funds would not be available that even Defendant Arizona Citizen's Clean Elections Commission advised 'participating candidates' at an official training session during the fall of 2009 not to count on matching funds," Dranias notes. (We reported on that fact here.)

And this new ruling, Dranias claims, muddles things up.

"Rather than preserving the status quo, the district court's temporary stay has only served to sow new uncertainty over whether Arizona's matching funds trigger mechanism will be effective during the 2010 election cycle," he writes. "And this newly created uncertainty presently punishes, deters and chills the exercise of First Amendment rights by Plaintiffs, other traditional candidates and their supporters by diminishing their willingness to freely fund and/or spend money promoting their preferred political campaign."

Will the appellate court agree? Who knows. But we can definitely agree with Dranias on one thing: The whole campaign finance situation in Arizona these days is indeed confusing -- and incredibly uncertain.