Campaigns/Elections

Supreme Court Blocks Matching Money for Moochers

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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.