U.S. Supreme Court Will Decide Fate of "Matching Funds" to Political Campaigns

Posted on November 29, 2010 | Type: Press Release
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PHOENIX – The U.S. Supreme Court announced today the justices will formally consider the Goldwater Institute’s challenge to the use of matching funds when tax dollars are given to state election candidates to finance their campaigns.

The Supreme Court will review McComish v. Bennett, a lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute in 2008 to protect the First Amendment rights of privately funded candidates running for the Arizona Legislature. Oral arguments will be heard by the Supreme Court after January 2011, and Goldwater Institute attorney Nick Dranias will represent those parties who have challenged matching funds as unconstitutional.

“We’re ecstatic that we have a chance to put an end to the worst feature of taxpayer subsidies for politicians,” said Clint Bolick, the Goldwater Institute’s litigation director. “The matching-funds system brazenly violates the First Amendment right of candidates to speak without having government put its thumb on the scale for their opponents.”

Since 1998, Arizona has offered tax dollars to fund campaigns in state elections under the Citizens Clean Elections Act. Candidates who join the system are given a base amount of tax money when the campaign begins, and also receive an almost dollar-for-dollar match for fundraising or spending by privately funded candidates beyond a specific amount. This system deters some privately funded candidates from raising or spending money to reach voters because that would automatically aid their publicly funded opponents as well. The system also deters independent expenditure groups by providing funding matches when such groups buy advertising to oppose taxpayer-funded candidates.

In January 2010, U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver issued a permanent injunction against Arizona’s use of matching funds, ruling that Supreme Court precedent stood against any government program that causes private fundraising or spending to subsidize opponents. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling five months later, while two other federal courts of appeal in other lawsuits have issued opinions similar to Judge Silver’s.

The Supreme Court took the extraordinary step in June 2010 of blocking the Ninth Circuit’s decision, even before a formal appeal had been filed, allowing Judge Silver’s injunction to be enforced until the high court takes final action on this case. As a result, matching funds were not available to Arizona’s publicly financed candidates during the 2010 elections.

The Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation represents Arizona Senator-elect John McComish, Representative Nancy McLain and Tony Bouie, who was a candidate for the Legislature. The Institute for Justice joined forces with the Goldwater Institute’s fight for free speech by consolidating a previously filed lawsuit with McComish v. Bennett.

Read more about this and other lawsuits filed by the Goldwater Institute to protect individual rights and keep government within its constitutional limits at www.goldwaterinstitute.org/litigation. The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog whose work is made possible by the generosity of its supporters.

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