Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard a challenge to Arizona's Clean Elections program, which provides matching funds to participating candidates whose opponents outspend them. In January, the day before the Supreme Court overturned restrictions on political speech by corporations in Citizens United v. FEC, a federal judge in Arizona ruled that the state's system of taxpayer-funded subsidies for candidates who want to escape the burdens of raising money amounts to an unconstitutional penalty for the speech of their unsubsidized opponents. The timing was fortuitous, since public funding of campaigns is one of the solutions proposed by critics of Citizens United. Whichever way the 9th Circuit rules, the Supreme Court is likely to hear the case, thereby setting the stage for the next major battle over campaign finance reform.
Institute for Justice attorney Bill Maurer, who argued against the Arizona system yesterday along with the Goldwater Institute's Nick Dranias, sums up their case this way:
Matching funds burden the free speech rights of candidates, citizens and independent groups. The First Amendment does not tolerate government action that puts a thumb on the scales in favor of publicly funded candidates.
The Arizona Republic reports that uncertainty about the future of Clean Elections has not noticeably dampened state politicians' eagerness to spend other people's forcibly extracted money on their quests for power. "Over 50 percent of candidates are using it this time," says Citizens Clean Elections Commission Executive Director Todd Lang, "despite all the opposition."
I.J. has background here.