Court Puts Hold on AZ Fund

 
Court Puts Hold on Arizona's Campaign Fund

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Adam Liptak, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6/8/10. WASHINGTON DC — The Supreme Court on Tuesday barred officials in Arizona from providing matching funds to candidates for state office who accept public financing, a program meant to help them keep pace with the unlimited spending of candidates who don’t take public financing.

In an unsigned order without noted dissents, the justices reinstated a trial court injunction that had been stayed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco.

The Supreme Court’s own stay will probably remain in effect through both the primary in August and the general election in November. The court instructed the candidates challenging the matching fund law to file a prompt appeal. If the court agrees to hear the case, as is likely, it is unlikely to be argued and decided before the November election.

The Arizona law matches money spent by candidates for state office who do not accept public financing — and therefore can raise and spend without limits — by providing equivalent public money for those who take the public money and face limits.

A federal judge said those matching funds would place an unconstitutional burden on the First Amendment rights of candidates relying on private funds. The Supreme Court has been skeptical of efforts to level the financial playing field in elections.

Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Tuesday’s order did not bode well for either the Arizona law or for campaign finance regulation efforts more generally.

“The developments in Arizona show just what a tough litigation environment it is right now for those in the lower courts seeking to defend reasonable campaign finance regulations,” he wrote in a blog post. “Without matching funds provisions, public financing programs are unlikely to attract substantial participation from serious candidates, who fear being vastly outmatched by self-financed opponents or major independent spending campaigns.”

In January, the Supreme Court struck down part of a major campaign finance law in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Bill Maurer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice, which represents challengers in the Arizona case, welcomed Tuesday’s order.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today will allow the 2010 Arizona election to occur without the government placing its thumb on the scale in favor of those politicians who receive government subsidies,” Mr. Maurer said in a statement. “The purpose of this law was to limit individuals’ speech by limiting their spending. But the First Amendment does not permit the government to restrain Americans from robustly exercising the right of free speech.”

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