James Madison Center

Public Funding For Albuquerque City Council Challenged

New Mexico Turn Around, a free market oriented advocacy organization, filed suit in federal court on Friday against Albuquerque’s public funding scheme for city council candidates, asserting it is an unconstitutional infringement of their First Amendment free speech rights.

Albuquerque’s Open and Ethical Election Code provides taxpayer funding for Albuquerque city council and mayoral candidates who agree to limit how much money they raise and spend on their campaigns. Under the scheme, city council candidates receive $1 for each registered voter in their area. In addition, candidates may receive “matching funds” if they are outspent by their opponent or by independent groups.

New Mexico Turn Around says that it wants to get involved in Albuquerque’s upcoming city council races, but is reluctant to do so because it does not want its speech to trigger matching funds to candidates they seek to defeat.

According to James Bopp, Jr., counsel for the plaintiffs, “under this system, simply running an ad against a candidate can result in that candidate getting more taxpayer money.” Says Bopp, “candidates and their supporters are prevented from campaigning because doing so will likely result in providing additional funds to the very candidates they want to oppose.”

The federal courts seem to agree. In 2010 two federal courts of appeals prevented similar public funding schemes from operating in Connecticut and Florida. And a similar Arizona law is currently pending before the Supreme Court.

The case is New Mexico Turn Around v. Baily, 1:11-cv-536. Copies of the complaint and motion for preliminary injunction are available in PDF online at the James Madison Center’s website, www.jamesmadisoncenter.org, under “New Mexico Turn Around v. Baily.”

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