Jus­tices void Ari­zona cam­paign-fi­nance law

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The Supreme Court on June 27 struck down a key pro­vi­sion of an Ari­zona cam­paign-fi­nance law that pro­vided match­ing funds for pub­licly funded can­di­dates, fur­ther so­lid­i­fy­ing the court’s record of op­po­si­tion to elec­tion re­for ms that limit speech.

The 5-4 ma­jor­ity ruled that the 1998 Ari­zona Cit­i­zens Clean Elec­tions Act, which gives pub­licly fi­nanced can­di­dates roughly a dol­lar for ev­ery dol­lar raised or spent by their pri­vately funded ri­vals, vi­o­lates the Con­sti­tu­tion by re­strict­ing the free-speech rights of pri­vately funded can­di­dates and their donors.

The court rea­soned that can­di­dates who raise their own fund­ing may be re­luc­tant to spend it, know­ing that their ri­vals will be re­warded with a counter-match. Po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees and other donors may be es­pe­cially wary of in­ad­ver­tently fund­ing can­di­dates with whom they dis­agree.

“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,” said Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. in the ma­jor­ity opin­ion for Jus­tices An­tonin Scalia, An­thony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sa­muel A. Al­ito Jr.

The de­ci­sion comes nearly a year and a half af­ter an­other high-pro­file cam­paign-fi­nance rul­ing, in Cit­i­zens United v. Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, in which a 5-4 ma­jor­ity struck down fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tions on cor­po­rate and union cam­paign spend­ing.

That rul­ing was hotly crit­i­cized by Democrats and lib­eral groups, who ac­cused the court of clear­ing the way for cor­po­ra­tions to buy elec­tions. The new de­ci­sion also came un­der fire for what crit­ics de­scribed as tip­ping the scales in fa­vor of the rich.

“I am con­cerned that to­day’s opin­ion, as well as the Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion, will no doubt lead to the drown­ing out of in­di­vid­ual voices of hard­work­ing Amer­i­cans by pow­er­ful spe­cial in­ter­ests,” said Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Demo­crat.

Me­lanie Sloan, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton, said “the Roberts court has is­sued an­other dis­as­trous cam­paign-fi­nance de­ci­sion.”

“Star ting with Cit­i­zens United, Chief Jus­tice Roberts and his con­ser­va­tive col­leagues have been sys­tem­at­i­cally dis­man­tling our nation’s cam­paign-fi­nance laws, en­sur­ing that only the rich­est Amer­i­cans will have a say in the po­lit­i­cal process,” she said.

Nick Dra­nias, the Gold­wa­ter In­sti­tute’s di­rec­tor of con­stitu- tional stud­ies and lead at­tor­ney in the case, coun­tered that the de­ci­sion “pro­tects demo­cratic elec­tions and gets gov­ern­ment’s heavy thumb off the scale.”

Ari­zona was among the na- tional lead­ers in cam­paign-fi­nance re­form af­ter the state was blind­sided by a se­ries of corruption scan­dals. The sit­u­a­tion cul­mi­nated in the 1991 “AZs­cam” case, in which seven state leg­is­la­tors were in­dicted for ac­cept­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions or bribes in ex­change for votes on casino-gam­bling leg­is­la­tion.

Jus­tice Elena Ka­gan, writ­ing the dis­sent, ar­gued that states have the right to pro­tect the le­git­i­macy of the elec­tions process by keep­ing “mas­sive pools of pri­vate money from cor­rupt­ing our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.”

“Ari­zo­nans de­serve bet­ter,” Jus­tice Ka­gan wrote. “Like cit­i­zens across this coun­try, Ari­zo­nans de­serve a gov­ern­ment that rep­re­sents and serves them all. And no less, Ari­zo­nans de­serve the chance to re­form their elec­toral sys­tem so as to at­tain that most Amer­i­can of goals.”

The Ari­zona case was brought by five con­ser­va­tive politi­cians and two po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees, in­clud­ing the Ari­zona Free En­ter­prise Club’s Free­dom PAC. The club pres­i­dent, Steve Voeller, said: “The court got it ab­so­lutely right.”

He ar­gued the Ari­zona law al­ready had placed a chill­ing ef­fect on cam­paign spend­ing and speech. For ex­am­ple, if his or­ga­ni­za­tion’s PAC wanted to give $10,000 to a pri­vately fi­nanced can­di­date who had three pub­licly fi­nanced ri­vals, the re­sult would be the can­di­date’s ri­vals re­ceiv­ing about $10,000 each from the state.

“Our money would be tripled against us,” Mr. Voeller said. “So if we wanted to sup­port a can­di­date, we’d have to think long and hard about whether it would do any good.”


Writ­ing for the ma­jor­ity, Supreme Cour t Chief Jus­tice John G. Rober ts Jr. said, “Any in­crease in speech re­sult­ing from the Ari­zona law is of one kind and one kind only: that of pub­licly fi­nanced can­di­dates.”

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