Arizona Clean Elections Looks Constitutionally Questionable

Posted on July 01, 2008
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Last week, Justice Samuel Alito penned a Supreme Court decision that could be the beginning of the end for Arizona Clean Elections.

Davis v. FEC struck down a federal campaign finance law that, like Clean Elections, arguably stifles speech. The law struck down in Davis allowed candidates competing against self-financed candidates to accept "equalizing" additional contributions above normal limits, while still holding the self-financed candidate to the original limits. This meant people who might otherwise finance their own candidacies were given a reason not to, because doing so could open a floodgate of contributions to the opposition candidate.

Arizona Clean Elections similarly "equalizes" contributions raised by privately funded candidates by giving matching amounts of taxpayer money to publicly funded candidates. Under this scheme, people who might choose to donate money to a candidate are given a reason to refrain, because their contribution would shower matching amounts of public money on opposing candidates.

Both the Davis law and the Clean Elections law cause financial support for one candidate to create fundraising advantages for the opposing candidate. Davis ruled that such schemes restrict freedom of speech and cannot be justified by the goal of "leveling the playing field" between candidates. And in reaching this ruling, Davis tellingly relied on Day v. Holahan. There, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a clean elections law just like Arizona's.

The Institute of Justice is currently challenging the constitutionality of the Arizona Clean Elections law, and the Davis ruling will likely have an impact on that.

­ Stay tuned.

Learn more:

Goldwater Institute: Clean Elections--Or Incumbent Protection?

Goldwater Institute: 'Clean Elections' Chill Free Speech

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