CCP files brief challenging ‘matching funds’ provisions in Arizona

The Center for Competitive Politics today filed a friend-of-the-court brief that challenges the constitutionality of the “matching funds” provisions in Arizona’s taxpayer financed campaigns. The brief was filed in McComish v. Bennett, a case pending in the federal district court in Phoenix.

“It’s long past time to end this unconstitutional program allowing the government to punish candidates who decide not to rely on taxpayer money to run their campaigns,” said Reid Cox, the legal director of the Center for Competitive Politics and counsel of record for the brief. “These ‘matching funds,’ essentially a bailout for taxpayer financed politicians, undermine the ability of Arizona citizens and candidates to exercise their First Amendment rights without government coercion.”

The case was brought by several Arizona officeholders, candidates and political action committees against Arizona’s Secretary of State and the Clean Elections Commission, challenging provisions of Arizona’s “clean elections” program that provide dollar-for-dollar additional public funding to candidates who accept taxpayer money to run their campaigns when their opponents or outside groups outraise and outspend them.

The Court has previously ruled that, under the rationale of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Davis v. Federal Election Commission, Arizona’s “matching funds” provisions impose an unconstitutional penalty on “traditional candidates” for exercising their First Amendment rights to make unlimited, lawful and constitutionally-protected campaign expenditures. However, Judge Roslyn Silver did not strike down the “matching funds” provisions last fall because of a reluctance to intervene in ongoing campaigns. Instead, she ruled that the individuals and groups challenging Arizona’s Clean Elections Act “have shown a high likelihood of success on the merits.”

Oral arguments in the case are expected in late July.

“The State of Arizona and the now-defunct Clean Elections Institute both make the absurd claim that ‘matching funds’ advance First Amendment principles by allowing publicly funded candidates to increase their spending against their opponents — with taxpayer money, of course,” Cox said. “Yet there is no legitimate interest in the government leveling electoral opportunities between competing candidates, and certainly no interest entitling taxpayer financed candidates to a new government check every time someone speaks out against them or in support of their opponents. Why would anyone choose to put their money where their mouth is when the State of Arizona is going to use taxpayer money to fund the opposing political viewpoint dollar-for-dollar?”

Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to put the fate of Arizona’s taxpayer financed campaigns on the ballot in 2010 so voters can decide whether they want to continue spending their tax dollars on candidates’ bumper stickers, TV ads and consultants. The bill now must be approved by the full House and Senate.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a non-profit organization which seeks to protect the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly, and petition.