Supreme Court Blocks Matching Money for Moochers


Today the Supreme Court blocked "matching funds" for candidates under Arizona's Clean Elections Law while it decides whether to hear a First Amendment challenge to the system. Under the law, participating candidates receive one taxpayer dollar for each dollar spent by their privately funded opponents (or by independent groups sponsoring messages for their benefit) above a certain threshold. The Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice, representing politicians and activists who are challenging the law, argue that it penalizes people for exercising their right to freedom of speech by using taxpayer money to undermine the impact of their message. In January, U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver agreed, concluding that Arizona's campaign finance system "burdens…First Amendment rights, is not supported by a compelling state interest, is not narrowly tailored, and is not the least restrictive alternative." Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Silver's decision and lifted her injunction against the delivery of matching funds. Today's stay effectively reinstates the injunction until the Court either rejects the case or accepts and decides it.

"The Supreme Court's decision today will allow the 2010 Arizona election to occur without the government placing its thumb on the scale in favor of those politicians who receive government subsidies," says Institute for Justice senior attorney Bill Maurer. "The purpose of this law was to limit individuals' speech by limiting their spending. But the First Amendment does not permit the government to restrain Americans from robustly exercising the right of free speech."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who was expecting $1.4 million in matching funds to help her compete with Buz Mills, a privately funded opponent in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, is presumably less enthusiastic than Maurer. The Tucson Sentinel reports that Brewer and two other publicly funded contenders in the August 24 GOP primary will each get only $707,000 in "base funding," compared to $2.3 million that Mills has spent so far. Perhaps the experience will teach them a lesson about depending on subsidies forcibly extracted from their fellow citizens instead of seeking voluntary support through persuasion. But probably not.

NEXT: Arrest Over Iraqi Helicopter Slaughter Video Leak

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. We see this a little differently: one branch of government has trampled on the rights of The People to be heard and protected from Big Money.

    1. What if it takes big money to be protected from big money. OMG it’s the Twilight Zone.

  2. If this sort of thing actually resulted in better politicians–at least there would be a valid argument for it–but the politicians were crappy when the law was enacted and ten years latter they are still crappy–why should the taxpayers pay for this kind of crap?

    1. There would be a better argument, but not a valid one.

  3. A while back at another post somebody asked if anybody at Reason had ever come across anything that didn’t confirm what they already believe. It’s such an interesting question. Was it ever answered?

    1. Are you implying that H&R is a self-justifying circle jerk?

      1. If it is, how can I play?

        1. You already are.

    2. Happens to me occasionally, but I must admit that it got fairly infrequent after I began to develop an internally consistent philosophy.

    3. Bailey switched from AGW skeptic to AGW believer based on the science.

    4. Reason doesn’t do scholarly research, to the best of my recollection/understanding. That would likely fall more under Cato’s purview, where it would [then] become an intriguing question.

  4. The taxpayers should pay for this kind of non-crap.

  5. I don’t know about matching money’s impinging on freedom of communication. If communication is just to inform and persuade, then how can more communication rightly be said to reduce the information provided by those being matched? And if it reduces its persuasion, then isn’t that an admission that the communication being matched wasn’t correct to begin with?

    If my statement, “Ferd is no good, vote against Ferd” persuades you more than the original statement, “Ferd is good, vote for Ferd”, then doesn’t that mean that Ferd was probably no good after all? In which case isn’t it better that someone was provided with the wherewithal to get out the anti-Ferd message?

    1. The only constitutional argument I’ve heard that holds water in my opinion is that the state dumping money into election campaigns is going to raise the price of buying ads for all the candidates, so that it actually can reduce the ability of privately-funded candidates to get their word out.

      Also, there are some serious problems with the AZ law’s implementation. The publicly-funded candidate gets a check from the state equal to the total money raised by their competitor, without deducting the expenses the competitor incurred in raising the money. So the publicly-funded candidate actually has MORE money to spend than the one who actually raised money.

      Then there’s the problem with races with more than one candidate: a publicly funded candidate gets money equivalent to what each of the other candidates raises. So again, they have more money to spend than either of their competitors.

    2. Not really caring about the utility of the speech.

      Compelling someone to fund another’s speech via taxation is about as clear a violation of the 1st as any.

      1. So the NEA, Radio Marti, the USIA, hell, maybe even NPR are all violations? You’re funding loads of speech through your tax dollars there.

        1. Don’t forget ONDCP. And those awful, awful Census billboard ads.

        2. Yes. That’s kinda what happens when you forcibly take money from one person and give to others that it doesn’t belong.

        3. Yes.

  6. I swear to christ the day my taxes go to pay from the campaign of some would-be public official is the day I get medieval.

    When the government starts running its own candidates, the system is doomed.

  7. Suppose Soros came in and dumped 30 billion dollars on some candidate in a 3-way race. Would AZ send 60 billion to the other candidates?

    1. Seems like I need to find a rich dude that owns a tv station, then have both of us enter an election as opponents. He funds himself by spending 10 million in ads on his own station. I get 10 mil and split it with him 50/50.

    2. Soros is a foreign citizen and there are probably individual contribution limits in AZ law.

  8. From the IJ: “The government may not give an electoral advantage to one candidate by ‘leveling’ the speech of his opponents.”

    So long as “leveling” does not abridge the freedom of speech, then where in the Constitution are states prohibited from subsidizing a candidate (as would be necessary per the 10th)? If the state’s subsidization of a candidate abridges the opponents’ freedom of speech, then so too would private subsidization of a candidate, assuming one cared at all for logical consistency.

    1. Because there is a specific injunction against the government abridging freedom of speech. One objection can be, that the government decides who is legitimate candidate and who therefore is eligible for subsidy and the way those qualifications can be gamed. It is better for the government not be involved at all.

      Apply the logic you are using to another part of the 1st amendment, establishment of religion, and tell me if you like the logical consistancy.

      1. The govt selects NO candidates. Even wackos can get funded if they get enough qualifying signatures. Hell, even Libertarians took public money to run.

    2. I think a strong[er?] argument can be made that it abridges an individual’s speech by diluting it… similar to trademark dilution.

  9. For moochers? Very contorted view. The public voted to pay the matching funds and the court said no, you can’t compete with the Fat Cats that way. In effect, buy your own politician.

    But the elites may be the losers if it now backfires on them and people vote out of spite for the publicly funded candidates, which remains legal. Isn’t corruption fun? And we wonder why our economy has been trashed.

    Jack Lohman

  10. Are they making the argument that giving taxpayer money to a candidate essentially requires taxpayers to fund speech that they may not agree with? “Forced speech” is just as much a violation of the 1A as prohibited speech, in my book.

  11. Taxpayers ALREADY ARE forced to fund the speech of candidates they don’t agree with when those candidates pay back the Fat Cats with taxpayer-funded subsidies. But that payback is at a hundred times the amount we would have paid otherwise under a publicly financed system.

    I’m pragmatic and a former business owner. If politicians are going to pay back their funders, I want those funders to be the taxpayers. The current system trashed our economy. We don’t need more of the same.

  12. One of the candidates, state Treasurer Dean Martin, favored the decision as a conservative but is disappointed with the decision as a candidate.

    On a ?related note candidate Martin proposed “the immediate deployment of 3,000 troops to the Arizona-Mexico border, and a new partnership with Sheriff Joe Arpaio to house illegal immigrants in “tent city” style jails.”

    Obviously candidate Martin has quickly learned how to get free publicity (i.e. use phrases like “tent city”)

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.