A new lawsuit seeks to stop Arizona's decade-old Clean Elections Law in its tracks.
If successful, the suit filed Friday by the Goldwater Institute could affect the outcome of this year's Sept. 2 primary election, where early voting has already started.
The 1998 law allows candidates for statewide and legislative office to get public funding. Voters approved the measure despite objections from several business groups that traditionally financed campaigns through personal donations of executives and political action committees.
Attorney Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute said the law is unconstitutional because it seeks to equalize funding: If a privately financed candidate collects more than the allocation for the one running with public dollars, the publicly funded candidate is given more cash.
Bolick said the inequity is even worse if an independent group campaigns for a privately funded candidate. The publicly funded foe gets more money in that case, but the privately funded candidate can't get additional money if an independent expenditure is made on behalf of a publicly financed opponent.
Bolick, representing incumbents and would-be legislators running with private donations, said the law interferes with their constitutional right of free speech.
His suit asks U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver to block the Clean Elections Commission from providing more matching funds for publicly financed candidates while she reviews the constitutionality of the law.
Public funds do not come automatically: Candidates must first gather a set number of $5 donations to prove they have a base of support.
This is the second federal lawsuit challenging the matching fund provision.
In 2005, U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll threw out constitutional complaints about the law. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, while not overturning that decision, sent the case back to Carroll to reconsider. A new trial has not been set.