Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona Matching Funds Campaign Finance Law

In a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court today struck down Arizona’s controversial campaign finance law which allowed publicly-funded candidates to receive “equalizing” public money designed to match the expenditures of privately-funded candidates. In essence, once a certain expenditure threshold was reached, every additional dollar that a privately-funded candidate spent was matched by a public dollar that went to his or her publicly-funded opponent. As Chief Justice Roberts held, this “scheme substantially burdens protected political speech without serving a compelling state interest and therefore violates the First Amendment.” Here’s more from the majority opinion delivered today:

Once a privately financed candidate has raised or spent more than the State’s initial grant to a publicly financed candidate, each personal dollar spent by the privately financed candidate results in an award of almost one additional dollar to his opponent.  That plainly forces the privately financed candidate to “shoulder a special and potentially significant burden” when choosing to exercise his First Amendment right to spend funds on behalf of his candidacy.

Roberts also addressed the argument that the matching funds law resulted in more political speech, not less, and therefore deserved judicial protection:

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; “restriction[s] on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression.” Thus, even if the matching funds provision did result in more speech by publicly financed candidates and more speech in general, it would do so at the expense of impermissibly burdening (and thus reducing) the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups. This sort of “beggar thy neighbor” approach to free speech— “restrict[ing] the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others”—is “wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

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  • no kidding||

    Gee, what a surprise. The conservatives on the court rig elections in favor of the wealthy.

  • Almanian||


    That is all.

  • MNG||

    No one in America will be truly free until the Koch Brothers are in chains!

  • ||


  • Joeyjojojrshabadoo||

    the future of trolling is trolling badly

  • Seer||

    The left is going to wail about this one, and they may have a point. As odious as I find the law, I don't think it's unconstitutional.

  • MNG||

    If they passed a law that directly required you to pay for an opponent's advertising prior to engaging in speech of your own, would that be straightforward enough a burden for you?

    The AZ law just launders the money by having the state collect it before handing it over to the other candidate.

  • Fluffy||

    Oops, forgot I had spoofed MNG. Oh well.

  • SIV||

    What do you think about "teh Joooos" Fluffy?

  • Fluffy||

    No, that particular MNG spoof wasn't mine.

    My MNG spoof was the Koch one in this sub-thread.

  • faux MNG||

    Just because I hate Isreal and want it to be wiped off the map doesn't mean that I'm anti-semitic.

  • mr simple||

    How many handles do you need to argue with John?

  • Joe M||

    Damn. I was thinking that was one of the most reasonable things he'd ever said.

  • freeforall232||

    Does the U.S. Supreme Court have the authority to rule on a State law?

  • Fluffy||

    Since the 14th Amendment was passed - yeah.

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    If it's giong to be unconstitutional, violation of equal protection makes more sense to me than first amendment.

  • Seer||

    This argument I can get behind.

  • Paul||

    The left is going to wail about this one, and they may have a point. As odious as I find the law, I don't think it's unconstitutional.

    I don't see how without being hoisted on their own petard.

    The left continually claim that "money isn't speech" and therefore can be regulated without any constitutional hitch.

    Here is a kind of reverse case where the left have claimed that money is speech, and without it, the candidate with less of it has his speech restricted.

    To force constituents to pay for the speech of a less well-funded candidate smacks of gross overreach.

  • ||

    WTF? I'm sure it could simply be thrown out based on conflict of interest on using public money to fund a candidate, which basically forces the taxpayer to support the publicly funded candidate, regardless of their own preference. I don't think this restricts the private candidate at all. Its bassackwards thinking like this that makes me wonder what mental gymnastics our court systems practice daily. Surely they'd be olympic stars by now.

  • Fluffy||

    I believe the SCOTUS has previously ruled that the state cannot be prevented from engaging in its own speech on the basis of opposition to that speech from individual taxpayers.

    So if the AZ law had been fought on that basis it would probably have prevailed.

  • cynical||

    What, even to the point of the state promoting one candidate in an election?

  • ||

    So they're basically being inconsistant because they didn't like it in this instance. Idiots.

  • ||

    The dissent in this case is pretty ridiculous. It boils down to an argument that there's absolutely no chance for corruption in the Arizona campaign finance system that was overturned.

  • ||

    Yeah, I had a hard time treating the dissent as serious legal opinion. They clearly just like public campaign financing and therefore they are going to support it. It seems anathema to everything that the nation was founded for, but there ya go. (State sponsored political speech? You really see any of the rebels of the American revolution favoring that?)

    Since the dissent is cast in the imagination - how about this: Imagine a campaign where there is one immensely popular candidate. He's got 80% support. There are 4 other fringe group candidates (libertarian party, Nazi party, communist party and African liberation party), none garnering significant support. Under their formulation the state should ensure that the Nazi party is able to speak with parity to the popular candidate. Why on earth would we want that?

    Of course, being that I'm arguing on the internet, the very existence of my inane commentary here puts the lie to the notions of the dissent. Despite the increasingly large sums of money available in politics, the massive availability of means of mass communications strongly mitigates the advantages of money. (of course the horse-race covering media has yet to realize this)

  • ||

    If he's already got 80% of the vote he doesn't need to spend money on a campaign.

  • GWB||

    It depends. A candidate has to win by a margin greater than the margin of election fraud.

  • ||

    So why should they punish him (or in reality, taxpyers), if he does.

  • sevo||

    I asked you about this in the 'game' thread; I see the decision has come down.
    I wonder if this applies to SF's hand-outs?
    Candidates for the Board of Supervisors or Mayor whom the Ethics Commission certifies as eligible to receive public financing of their election campaigns, and who comply with the applicable conditions and restrictions specified in Section 1.140 of this Chapter, may receive public funds as provided in this Chapter to defray the costs of their election campaigns."

  • ||

    No time to really read that fully, but I'd say that the SF hand-outs wouldn't be invalidated here. It's a different situation; it's a normalized handout as opposed to one that matches the private spending of opponents.

    But that's an uneducated decision where I haven't had time to fully read the SCOTUS decision or the law (and where I have other legal matters on the brain for work), so it should never be taken as legal advice.

  • sevo||

    Appreciate your comment and understand your caution (and that you have a job).
    Got a gleam in my eye, however, and think it's worth some further investigation.

  • FBIber||

    "I have other legal matters on the brain for work"

    Still trying to dodge the RICO charges are yah?

  • Jim Lippard||

    I don't see the argument that there's no chance for corruption in the structure of Arizona campaign finance. And this argument seems sound:

    the program does not discriminate against any candidate or point of view, and it does not restrict any person's ability to speak. In fact, by providing resources to many candidates, the program creates more speech and thereby broadens public debate. ...

    At every turn, the majority tries to convey the impression that Arizona's matching fund statute is of a piece with laws prohibiting electoral speech. The majority invokes the language of "limits," "bar[s]," and "restraints." ... It equates the law to a "restrictio[n] on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign." ...

    There is just one problem. Arizona's matching funds provision does not restrict, but instead subsidizes, speech. The law "impose[s] no ceiling on [speech] and do[es] not prevent anyone from speaking." ... The statute does not tell candidates or their supporters how much money they can spend to convey their message, when they can spend it, or what they can spend it on. ...

    In the usual First Amendment subsidy case, a person complains that the government declined to finance his speech, while financing someone else's; we must then decide whether the government differentiated between these speakers on a prohibited basis--because it preferred one speaker's ideas to another's. ... But the speakers bringing this case do not make that claim--because they were never denied a subsidy. ... Petitioners have refused that assistance. So they are making a novel argument: that Arizona violated their First Amendment rights by disbursing funds to other speakers even though they could have received (but chose to spurn) the same financial assistance. Some people might call that chutzpah.

    Indeed, what petitioners demand is essentially a right to quash others' speech through the prohibition of a (universally available) subsidy program. Petitioners are able to convey their ideas without public financing--and they would prefer the field to themselves, so that they can speak free from response. To attain that goal, they ask this court to prevent Arizona from funding electoral speech--even though that assistance is offered to every state candidate, on the same (entirely unobjectionable) basis. And this court gladly obliges.

  • Fluffy||

    It's not an entirely unobjectionable basis, or no one would object to it.

    That argument only appears sound if you don't regard requiring the subsidization of the speech of your opponents as a prerequisite for speaking yourself to be a burden on speech. It pretty much unambiguously is.

    If we had a law saying that Arizona was going to audit the budgets of every Judeo-Christian church in the state and award a matching state subsidy to a group of Satanists, and would increase the subsidy every time any church increased its expenditures by a dollar, I think people would pretty straightforwardly see that as a burden on the free exercise of religion.

  • despindle||

    What the dissenters fail to comprehend is that under the AZ system no one would bother to raise donor money or spend their own money because for every dollar they work there butts off raising a dollar will be gifted to their opponent by the state.

    While on its face, the law does not prohibit private financing of campaigns, that is its effect and that is unconstitutional.

  • Paul||


    Why would I expend a single cent of effort to raise an extra dollar, when I know those dollars will be gifted to me the instant a richer, privately financed candidate throws his hat into the ring.

    You're not just subsidizing speech, you're subsidizing all the efforts of a campaign for which money is a major segment.

  • Ted S.||

    Why should I be forced to fund the speech of candidates with whom I disagree?

  • ||

    The left is going to wail about this one, and they may have a point. As odious as I find the law, I don't think it's unconstitutional.
    @ I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to
    our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a
    46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get
    all this stuff,

  • Paul||

    Wow, for a second I thought he was going to make some brilliant tangental point to campaign finance with a pithy connecting-of-the-dots at the end.

    What a disappointment.

  • ||

    Oh, the squealing from the left will be amazing. It's always good to see how they have zero fucking integrity on free speech issues, just like their "opponents" on the right.

  • the left||

    But rich peepul have more money/speech! IT'S NOT FAIRRR!!11!!

  • Progress the Future!||

    Except in the last Presidential election. Then it was, like, totally fair. 'Cause, like, the internet and stuff.

  • Meg Whitman||

    I know. That's how I became governor of California.

  • Ross Perot||

    And I President!

  • Maria Cantwell||

    On the other hand, I did spend a large sum of my personal fortune and became senator.

    Immediately after which I vowed to get the money out of politics.

    It's integrity all the way down.

  • John Kerry||

    I've never needed my money to get elected.

  • Rodrigo Borgia||

    Amen, sister.

  • ||

    WORLD WAR THREE – Afghanistan – Pakistan Worse Case Scenario


    What are the real objectives of the American – Israeli Military Industrial Complex the – [EMPIRE]? It's about Oil, Resources, and having yet another Pearl in its Nuclear Choke Chain Necklace running from the Black Sea and the Naval Facilities of the Russian Federation, around the Arabian Peninsula, around the entire of the [PDRC] Peoples Democratic Republic of China, to the Northern Arctic Polar Region and once again the naval facilities of The Russian Federation. This is about the [CAAP] Central Asian Aramco Pipeline, a consortium of oil companies, the very same companies that control Saudi Oil, to be built at a cost of over a [$2B/€1.3B] Two-Billion-Dollars/One-Point-Three Billion-Euros, running thru the Russian Federation Central Asia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, with the Taliban given a generous cut of the profits from the oil and gas to be pumped thus the [CAAP], the Taliban will be allowed to place an emir into political power under Sharia Law, in return for their cut and [CAAP] safety. The billions in mineral resources and in particular Lithium a virtual virgin area of untapped mineral wealth waiting to be tapped, and last but not least the control of the world Opium Triangle and its route to the ports of France.

    [ [PDRC] Pearl]

    The [PDRC] Peoples Democratic Republic of China is involved in countering the [EMPIRE] Pearl Choke Chain Necklace and its interests also lay in the Afghanistan – Pakistan region and in particular the Pakistan Port City of Gwadar, which the [PDRC] reached an agreement to take over the operation, and modernization from the existing contract held previously by a Singaporean government company, while at the same time presenting the Pakistani government with the gift of [50] fifty, [JF-17], fighter jets, to show the appreciation of the [PDRC]. The [PDRC] also deployed units of the [PLA] Peoples Liberation Army to maintain security in the Pakistani – held Kashmir City as it transforms Gwadar into an energy trans-shipment terminal to transport Gulf and African oil to western China by pipeline, while providing military hardware too the Pakistani Government in putting down the insurrection against the central government in the mineral-rich province of Baluchistan all of which will have a market in the [PDRC]. While at the same time projecting its regional might in the Middle East, East Africa, India, its Pearl a naval anchorage in the Indian Ocean region, for its increasing sophisticated nuclear submarine fleet, modern ballistic missiles, Carrier Killer missile system, and [GPS] Ground Positioning Satellite – blocking technology, bring to an end the present [EMPIRE] regional hegemony in the South China Sea, and Indian Ocean, and break the Blue and Gold Trident Submarine Chain, at the same time ending any hopes of [EMPIRE] companies ability to drill in the region, forcing the [EMPIRE] too purchase the regions resources at market prices.

    [Worse Case Scenario]

    The [PDRC] according to and often cited [PLA] memorandum of the General Logistics Department director quote, "We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as only an ocean of the Indians. We are taking armed conflicts in the region into account." Unquote, while at the same time the [EMPIRE] is planning an offensive in the same area in which the [PLA] is creating its own Pearl of Power, the Northern Area of Pakistan. The worse case Scenario is already happening the rubbing of two Pearls of Power in a limited space, for control of larger regional interests. And as everyone is aware when you start rubbing two items together things begin to heat up, this has become the Afghanistan – Pakistan Worse Case Scenario.


  • ||


    [Sevant of URKOBOLD, First Born Son of the American-Israeli Empire [EMPIRE]]

    Now, We [DECATHLON] have been summoned to put a stop to You [TRIATHLON], soon You will know that nothing can defeat the American-Israeli Empire [EMPIRE], You are deluded and foolish [WRONG] to go against the [EMPIRE] and the order and peace it brings, prepare for [BATTLE] Triathlon, soon you will pay for your lack of vision!


  • Almanian||

    +a bunch

  • T||

    Can someone GIS "pearl choke chain necklace" and report back? I am intruiged and disturbed by this phrase.

  • Au H20||

    It's... It's actually just a necklace, even with safe search off.

  • Au H20||

    Also, the search led me to learn that Herc has a blog:

  • T||

    I am disappoint.

  • Joe M||

    Damn, they're on a roll today! Not surprising this boiled down to the usual 5-4 split, unlike the video game ruling.

  • Teh Corporashuns!!1!!11!||

    All your elections are belong to us.

  • Almanian||

    also +a bunch

  • West Texas||

    This sort of “beggar thy neighbor” approach to free speech— “restrict[ing] the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others”—is “wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

    This 5-4 decision today would have been 4-5 in 2003 and is actually the same reasoning that should have struck down McCain Feingold, too.

    Alito for O'Connor was a good trade.

  • West Texas||

    And yes, I know that Rehnquist was part of [part of] the majority in McConnell, so Roberts for Rehnquist was probably a good trade, too. I'm just too lazy right now to go read exactly what Rehnquist's concurrence was back then.

  • Almanian||

    Supremes go Two for Two in the doubleheader! Next up....??

    Hopefully another one they can get right!

    Good job, Supremes!

  • rst||

    Usurprising that Kagan could reach the low hanging first amendment fruit in the video game case, only to go off the rails in her dissent in the AZ case. "In fact, by providing resources to many candidates, the program creates more speech and thereby broadens public debate. And just as the voters had hoped, the program accomplishes its mission of restoring integrity to the political system. The second State [Arizona, presumably] rids itself of corruption. And then unicorns fly out of my ass."

    Ok, I editorialized a bit. But still...seriously? I've still only skimmed the dissent, but hers seems a hell of a stretch to paint the law as really tailored to such a fantastical end as *poof* no more corruption.

  • ||

    I'd be fine with going to pure public financing.

    Give all the candidates on the ballot a hundred bucks. If they spend more than that on their campaign, flay them on live TV.

  • Joe M||

    Why is it that a candidate can spend an unlimited amount, but donors can only give $2500? Either candidates should be limited to the same amount, or donors should have no restrictions. I'd obviously prefer the latter, but how is this split allowed to exist in the first place?

  • ||

    It's an attempt to keep candidates from being too beholden to individual donors. Which is obviously easily circumvented, but like so many other social engineering policies it's the thought that counts.

  • Joe M||

    It's an attempt to keep candidates from being too beholden to individual donors.


  • ||

    If they spend more than that on their campaign, flay them on live TV.

    This is a "speech" issue; rip out their tongues.

  • ||

    OK, that's fair.

  • idea guy||

    What would be wrong with preventing all campaign expenditures, allowing unlimited expenditures on physical training and then deciding elections via fights-to-the-death? The elections would be more interesting and, in the long run, the weakest politicians would be weeded out in a way that libertarians could support, being darwinian and all.

  • UFC||

    Hmmmm....President Cain Velasguez....

  • ||

    Why is it that a candidate can spend an unlimited amount, but donors can only give $2500?

    So, instead of donating to his candidacy, why not just put my preferred candidate on the payroll as a "consultant"? The money is now "his" because he "earned" it, and he may spend it as he wishes.

    Fucking workarounds- how do they work?

  • ||

    Fucking workarounds- how do they work?

    Around, apparently.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    So when it comes time to decide on First Amendment cases, the Supreme Court can at least be relied upon to lean in the proper direction, whereas in Fourth Amendment cases, all bets are off as to our protections from unwarranted intrusion.

  • H man||

    Yes, so you can at least complain about the boot in your face and gun at your head.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    And my dead dog. That'll be my first complaint.

  • Douglas Fletcher||

    Janet Napolitano was in favor of this law. Enough said.

  • ||

    Its pretty basic, although the opinion reads like it was written late at night by an overeducated law clerk.

    Are you as likely to run another ad, if by doing so you will generate revenue for your opponent?

    No. Ergo, this law chills speech. Properly stricken. Fuck you, Kagan, with your "oh, it results in puppies and rainbows and more speech" bullcrap opinion. Chilling person A's speech is not excused merely because it encourages person B's speech.

  • appleaccessories||

    we can be free ?


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