Supreme Court Axes Arizona’s Matching Funds Law

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Ray Gustin
June 27, 2011, 10:49 a.m.

The Su­preme Court voted 5-4 Monday to over­turn an Ari­zona elec­tion law that provided match­ing pub­lic funds to can­did­ates who are be­ing out­spent by op­pon­ents who self-fund or take private money.

In the ma­jor­ity opin­ion for Ari­zona Free En­ter­prise Club’s Free­dom Club PAC v. Ben­nett, Chief Justice John Roberts said that gov­ern­ment could not be in­volved in any “at­tempt to equal­ize elect­or­al op­por­tun­it­ies in this man­ner” but ad­ded that the rul­ing was not in­ten­ded to “[call] in­to ques­tion the wis­dom of pub­lic fin­an­cing,”

In her dis­sent, Elena Kagan said that over­turn­ing the 1998 law would lim­it the amount of voices that could par­ti­cip­ate in the pro­cess. “Less cor­rup­tion, more speech,” Kagan wrote. “Ro­bust cam­paigns lead­ing to the elec­tion of rep­res­ent­at­ives not be­hold­en to the few, but ac­count­able to the many. The people of Ari­zona might have ex­pec­ted a de­cent re­spect for those ob­ject­ives. Today, they do not get it.” Justices Brey­er, Gins­burg, and So­to­may­or also dis­sen­ted.

The rul­ing, which at first glance seems like a de­feat for cam­paign fin­ance re­form ad­voc­ates, ac­tu­ally should of­fer “a glim­mer of hope to ad­voc­ates of lim­it­ing the role of money in polit­ics [be­cause] the court did not launch a broad at­tack on tax­pay­er-fun­ded cam­paigns,” ex­plains the As­so­ci­ated Press. Politico’s Ken Vo­gel agreed, writ­ing that the “re­l­at­ively nar­row rul­ing…ap­pears un­likely to im­pact the fed­er­al pres­id­en­tial pub­lic fin­an­cing sys­tem,” which doesn’t have a match­ing funds trig­ger.

 

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