Supreme Court to hear tax financing challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a First Amendment challenge to Arizona’s tax financing program for political campaigns, according to a brief announcement from the Court today.

The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom PAC v. Bennett.

“Arizona’s system of tax financing for political candidates has serious constitutional defects,” said CCP Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward, the author of the brief. “Beyond that, the program’s incentive, a speech-punishing subsidy to participating candidates, has no basis in sound public policy.”

CCP’s brief focuses on the public policy justifications for tax financed political campaigns in states that have adopted or experimented with the programs. Reports from government entities and private researchers in Arizona, Maine and New Jersey show no real benefits from granting government subsidies to candidates.

“Neither governmental studies nor the work of independent scholars can confirm that these laws further the state’s interest in reducing corruption or the appearance of corruption,” Hayward wrote in the brief. “Nor is there any evidence that these programs further goals that might indirectly improve the quality of governance, such as competition or diversity.”

States that have implemented such programs argue that they must grant subsidies to participating candidates based on the spending of non-participating candidates and independent groups as an incentive for participation in the programs.

“If ‘clean elections’ systems fail to improve a state’s political system—and some studies even indicates the programs have adverse effects—then the state’s rationale for paying incentive funds disappears,” Hayward said.

The Court is expected to hear the case in March with a decision expected by early summer.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights. CCP seeks to promote the political marketplace of ideas through research, litigation and advocacy.