by Craig Salins
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments next spring on the constitutionality of “rescue” matching funds – a key component of Arizona’s Clean Elections program that provides additional funds to Clean Elections candidates when they are outspent by privately-financed opponents or face opposition by independent ads . The court’s decision to hear the case was announced Monday, Nov. 29th.
Additional info – links on the Supreme Court case, McComish v. Bennett —
SCOTUS takes Arizona Clean Elections (rescue funds) case(Seattle Times)
SCOTUS to hear challenge to AZ’s Clean Elections law(AZCentral.com)
Brennan Center will defend AZ Clean Elections program(Brennan Center)
End of Public Financing? (Brennan Center post, by Mimi Murray Digby Marziani)
This lawsuit (McComish v. Bennett) began two years ago, when some Republican candidates – assisted by attorney Bill Maurer of the libertarian-leaning law firm Institute for Justice – argued that their fundraising (and therefore their speech) was “chilled” because funds they raised would simply provide more matching dollars to publicly-financed candidates.
In January 2009, a U.S. district judge in Phoenix found the matching funds provision unconstitutional. In May, 2010, the Ninth Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the law, issuing a stay to overturn the Arizona District Court. But then Clean Elections opponents asked the Supreme Court to intervene and block distribution of Clean Elections Act matching funds – and the Court did so (in June), pending a decision whether to hear the case.
Nearly no one is surprised the Supreme Court has chosen to hear this case. Opinions and rulings from various districts and federal circuit courts have been divided on whether public financing of campaigns – and in particular, the matching “rescue” funds feature that is part of most state Clean Elections programs – is constitutional under First Amendment “free speech” provisions.
We certainly know of the Supreme Court’s leanings, evidenced by the Citizens United ruling last January, and by the Court’s tossing out the “Millionaire’s Amendment” provision (Davis v. FEC) of the McCain-Feingold law, last year. Will the Court expand the lawsuit to rule against public financing of campaigns in general? – or will they confine a ruling to only the question of triggered matching funds? We don’t know.
But it should be clearer than ever that democracy in America is imperiled – by growing concentration of wealth at the top and by the power of money to influence election outcomes and lawmaking itself. Main Street households are often busy trying to survive in a depressed economy. Voters can easily be swayed by clever issue ads, spin and half-truths – especially on complex public policy issues with no easy answers.
It’s time for the Supreme Court to side with people (that is, flesh-and-blood natural persons) instead of money and wealth.
Since the court seems inclined otherwise – it’s time for a broad national movement to clarify (by a constitutional amendment) that “free speech” is intended as a right of the people, not as a means for money or corporate interests to hijack self-government – and the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – in America.
For details, visit MoveToAmend.org.
Also, see the back page of WPC’s proposals to the 2011 legislative session
~ Craig Salins
WA Public Campaigns / washclean.org / firstname.lastname@example.org