Smith at New York Times: Arizona Free Enterprise PAC, and the separation of campaign and state

At the New York Times, CCP Chairman Brad Smith cheers the decision in Arizona Free Enterprise PAC v. Bennett as one more step on the road to the proper separation of campaign and state.

Filed Under: Blog

Hoersting on AZ Free Enterprise Decision

CCP Vice President Stephen Hoersting has this commentary in the National Review Online on the Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett decision:

The act awards matching funds to a publicly funded candidate who has been targeted in privately funded advertising run either by an opposing candidate who is privately funded or by an independent organization. You won’t be surprised to learn that the act does not give privately financed candidates generous subsidies when they are attacked by subsidized candidates or their allies.

But the act was even worse in actual practice, because of a multiplier effect. Subsidies could be given to more than one candidate (think primary elections), as the chief justice noted in one of a series of examples: “If the privately funded candidate spent $1,000 of his own money to conduct a direct mailing, each of his publicly funded opponents would receive $940” (which is a one-for-one match less a supposed 6 percent offset to adjust for the costs incurred by the privately funded candidate, who had to actually raise his funds rather than hold out his hand to the government).

Filed Under: Blog

Public financing can corrupt, too.

In reading this morning’s decision striking down portions of Arizona’s public-financing laws, I am struck by one aspect of the argument. The Supreme Court’s reasoning suggests the danger that complex campaign finance regulations can be manipulated, leading – perversely – to precisely the sort of corruption those regulations purport to prevent.

The case, Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, has an unwieldy title. But the title is no more unwieldy than the law at issue.

Arizona’s law was intended to allow publicly-funded candidates to match the spending of privately-funded candidates, with money coming directly from the state treasury. Most discussion of this case has assumed a two-candidate general election, where one privately-financed candidate runs against one public-financed candidate.

But the Supreme Court’s majority (of all people) know politics is more complicated than that. For one thing, elections are often crowded and acrimonious. For another, groups other than the candidates spend money – independent expenditures – to comment on the candidates themselves. And under Arizona’s law, money spent by these outside groups is also matched.

An illustrative scenario shows the corruption this system makes possible.

Filed Under: Blog

So what’s wrong with ‘equal’ speech?

Today’s ruling in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennet (also known as McComish v. Bennett, and which I’ll mercifully just call Arizona Free Enterprise Fund or AFEF from here) hinges largely on the idea of whether the government should be in the business of trying to establish a ‘level playing field’ for political speakers.

The idea of a government-directed ‘level playing field has long been a dream of the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community. But it is a dream that died long ago in Buckley, the defining campaign finance case for the last 35 years. As the Court noted in this case, borrowing from Buckley:

This sort of “beggar thy neighbor” approach to free speech-“restrict[ing] the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others”-is “wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

Needless to say, this gets many people in the ‘reform’ community up in arms. As the argument goes, If some people are able to spend more in politics than others to advance their political views, oftentimes much more, how can we possibly say we have equal rights when it comes to free speech?

There are at least two answers off the top of my head.

Filed Under: Blog

Supreme Court Strikes Down “Matching Funds” Provision

The Supreme Court released the ARIZONA FREE ENTERPRISE CLUB’S FREEDOM CLUB PAC ET AL. v. BENNETT decision today, striking down the “matching funds” provision.  CCP filed an amicus brief supporting the succesful Petitioners.

The decision held that:

The differences between the matching funds provision and the law struck down in Davis make the Arizona law more constitutionally problematic, not less. First, the penalty in Davis consisted of raising the contribution limits for one candidate, who would still have to raise the additional funds. Here, the direct and automatic release of public money to a publicly financed candidate imposes a far heavier burden. And burdening the speech of some-here privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups-to increase the speech of others is a concept “wholly foreign to the First Amendment,” Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 48-49; cf. Miami Herald Pub-lishing Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U. S. 241, 244, 258. That no candidate or group is forced to express a particular message does not mean that the matching funds provision does not burden their speech, especially since the direct result of that speech is a state-provided monetary subsidy to a political rival. And precedents upholding government subsidies against First Amendment challenge provide no support for matching funds; none of the subsidies at issue in those cases were granted in response to the speech of another.

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Chief Justice Roberts to Arizona: Take Your Thumb Off the Scale!

Filed Under: In the News

Supreme Court Strikes Down ‘Matching Funds’ Provision

Alexandria, Va. — Today, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC et al. v Bennett (also known as McComish v. Bennett) striking down key provisions of the Arizona Clean Elections Act (ACEA).  The Act created tax-financed campaigns for those participating in the state-run program, and was challenged on the grounds that its “matching funds” provision ultimately chilled free speech and was in violation of the First Amendment.

The ruling is consistent with similar Supreme Court rulings over the past several years.  In 2008, the Court ruled in Davis v. FEC that “leveling the playing field” for candidates did not justify asymmetrical contribution limits triggered by one candidate’s spending their own funds in support of their campaign.

“The Supreme Court got it right today – it is not the state’s business to favor some candidates by giving them additional money when they risk being criticized or outspent,” said Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) Vice President of Policy Allison Hayward.  “Keeping campaign and state separate is vital if our system of government is to flourish, and this ruling moves us closer to that ideal.”

Arizona’s matching funds provision was found to chill free speech because the state allocates additional funds to candidates based on the spending of their opponents or independent groups.  Candidates and independent groups were effectively punished by the state for spending money to get their message out to the voting public.

“These programs of tax financed political campaigns have failed to achieve their goals wherever they’ve been implemented,” said Sean Parnell, president of CCP. “This latest ruling by the Court is one more nail in the coffin of so-called ‘reformers’ efforts to have government-managed political speech, something wholly contrary to the First Amendment.”

The implications of this decision will be felt in other states as well.  Connecticut, Maine, West Virginia, and Wisconsin also have “matching funds” provisions similar to Arizona’s.

“We are excited to see these unjust, unfair programs that stifle speech be struck down,” said Parnell.  “This is an important victory for our democracy.”

Filed Under: External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases, Tax Financed Campaigns Federal, Tax Financed Campaigns Press Release/In the News/Blog, Tax-Financing, Maine

Supreme Court Strikes Down ‘Matching Funds’ Provision of Arizona Law

Alexandria, Va. — The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) is pleased to learn that the Supreme Court today decided to strike down the “matching funds” provision of the Arizona Clean Elections Act.

 The court released the decision this morning after three months of deliberation. The decision ruled that the “matching funds” provision chilled First Amendment rights in campaigns by imposing a burden on the speech of privately-funded candidates and independent groups.

Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell released a statement today, saying: “The Supreme Court today struck down yet another so-called ‘reform’ measure that stifled free and unfettered political speech. In doing so the Court continued its streak of showing greater deference to the plain meaning of the First Amendment and less interest in schemes to suppress some speech in the interest of favoring the speech of others.”

Filed Under: External Relations Sub-Pages, Press Releases, Tax Financed Campaigns Federal, Tax Financed Campaigns Press Release/In the News/Blog, Tax-Financing

The Ron Johnson compensation “scandal”: Campaign finance reform reaches the other side of stupid

Self-styled “reformers” have gone off one one of the stupidist campaign finance and corporate contribution crusades we’ve seen in a long time, and that’s saying something. Indeed, this one goes well beyond stupid.

The reformers are are upset because Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson spent something under $9 million of his own money in his upset win over Russ Feingold last fall.

Filed Under: Blog

‘Reform’ Commissioners on FEC block updating regulations

From The Weekly Standard, political consultant and former CCP staffer Jeff Patch and NDPAC attorney and CCP Vice President Stephen M. Hoersting detail how the Democratic members of the Federal Election Commission have prevented updating the FEC’s regulations to account for court rulings in Citizens United, SpeechNow.org, EMILY’s List, and other cases. An excerpt follows.

How FEC Democrats hold regulatory reform hostage

It has been written a million times: The Federal Election Commission is a “dysfunctional” agency. But don’t jump on that bandwagon just yet.

The FEC is an independent, six-member agency that requires four votes to act but prohibits four members of the same political party from serving together. In practice, that means three Democrats and three Republicans; a microcosm of the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” built on the understanding that there is no such thing as a disinterested administration of political spending.

The whole piece is worth the read.

Filed Under: Blog