Campaign Finance & Election

Campaigns should be open and free, not prone to manipulation through government financing schemes. And now the U.S. Supreme Court agrees.

<p>Campaigns should be open and free, not prone to manipulation through government financing schemes. And now the U.S. Supreme Court agrees.</p>

Even though campaign finance laws interfere with constitutional rights of free speech and association, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the government may impose regulations on financial contributions to campaigns if it has a good enough reason to do so.­ The Court has recognized only one justification for curtailing the right to engage in political activity without governmental interference. ­That justification is combating corruption or the appearance of corruption.

If school districts were graded on respect for laws governing taxpayer elections, the Cave Creek School District would flunk. Its latest transgression involves a May 19 press release about a school district budget override election that the district posted on its website. This release raises serious concerns about the district’s compliance with a state law that bans the use of school district resources to influence the outcome of elections.

A meme has developed that “right-wing extremists” have disproportionately benefited from public campaign financing in Arizona. But the Goldwater Institute’s Legislative Report Card shows this supposition is far from the truth. In fact, public financing has empowered substantially more big government believers than principled proponents of limited government. 

A decade after Clean Elections began to stifle campaign speech in Arizona, free speech could soon be liberated. On January 15, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver will hold a hearing on Goldwater Institute’s challenge to the matching funds provisions of Arizona’s Clean Elections Act. The judge could temporarily or permanently block matching funds for government-subsidized candidates and finally allow traditionally-funded candidates and their supporters to speak freely in the 2010 election cycle.

Almost a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Citizens United v. F.E.C. that there is no such thing as a “de minimis”—or insignificant—denial of free speech. The ruling should have immediately sparked a sweeping repeal of campaign speech regulations that were previously justified as imposing only a “de minimis” burden. An axe, not a scalpel, should have been taken to the volumes of complex, vague and burdensome campaign laws. Instead of seizing the moment, it appears Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett wants follow the lead of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The U.S. Supreme Court has sent a strong signal that it will seriously consider intervening if the fate of matching funds in Arizona’s system of publicly funded campaigns is not determined quickly by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In January, U.S. District Court judge Roslyn Silver ruled in favor of the Goldwater Institute and struck down the matching funds portion of Clean Elections, calling it “unconstitutional under the First Amendment.” However, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit voted 2-1 to put Silver’s ruling on hold until it acts on the case.

Bills that could end taxpayer-financed elections in Arizona are fighting their way through the state legislature. They are encountering resistance from self-described small government conservatives who have no trouble with the irony of using big government policies to their own advantage. But taxpayer-financed elections violate basic conservative principles and it is unlikely that politicians whose careers depend on taxpayer money will be able to resist their government benefactor over the long run.

Having litigated in more than 10 states, I’ve seen the gamut of state court judges from smart and objective to political hacks. A main reason I came to Arizona is the overall fairness and high quality of our state’s judges.

In a new bill titled the DISCLOSE Act, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has proposed burdensome new requirements for federal campaign spending in response to the January 2010 historic decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. The House Administration Committee is scheduled to consider amendments today to the proposed law.