High Court Rules Arizona's "Clean Elections" Law Unconstitutional

By:  Jack Kenny
06/30/2011
       
High Court Rules Arizona's "Clean Elections" Law Unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 held major portions of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act of 2002 an unconstitutional abridgement of the First Amendment's guarantee of "the freedom of speech." On Monday of this week, the Court also held a state law to be in violation of the same Bill of Rights guarantee, despite an attempt to justify it with the same high purpose the federal law proclaimed: an attempt to eliminate the corruption of elections by moneyed interests.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled Arizona's 1998 Citizens Clean Elections Act unconstitutional because its effect, and its all but certain intent, is to punish candidates who spend their own or privately donated money on campaign advertising beyond the level of the public funding available to all candidates. Expenditures of private funds by a candidate triggered an increase of public funds to the candidate's opponent or opponents, who would receive the extra money without having to go through the work of soliciting it. Spending by independent groups supporting a privately financed candidate also triggered matching donations of public funds to opponents, despite Court rulings that independent expenditures are core political speech and do not give rise to corruption.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 held major portions of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Act of 2002 an unconstitutional abridgement of the First Amendment's guarantee of "the freedom of speech." On Monday of this week, the Court also held a state law to be in violation of the same Bill of Rights guarantee, despite an attempt to justify it with the same high purpose the federal law proclaimed: an attempt to eliminate the corruption of elections by moneyed interests.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled Arizona's 1998 Citizens Clean Elections Act unconstitutional because its effect, and its all but certain intent, is to punish candidates who spend their own or privately donated money on campaign advertising beyond the level of the public funding available to all candidates. Expenditures of private funds by a candidate triggered an increase of public funds to the candidate's opponent or opponents, who would receive the extra money without having to go through the work of soliciting it. Spending by independent groups supporting a privately financed candidate also triggered matching donations of public funds to opponents, despite Court rulings that independent expenditures are core political speech and do not give rise to corruption.

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