Today the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional an Arizona system of public funding of elections because it gave money to candidates based on the First Amendment speech of others. The Arizona Clean Elections Act, passed in 1998, provides taxpayer funding for any Arizona statewide candidates who agree to limit how much money they raise and spend on their campaigns. Under the scheme, Arizona’s gubernatorial candidates receive $638,222.50, plus additional “matching funds” if they are outspent by their opponent and independent groups.
Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom brought the first challenge to a matching fund public funding system in 1994. That case, Day v. Holohan, successfully challenged Minnesota’s matching fund system on First Amendment grounds. Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom subsequently filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in McComish, and is currently challenging similar matching fund provisions in Maine, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
James Bopp, Jr., counsel for the plaintiffs in Day, said he was not surprised by the ruling. “Under this system, simply running an ad against a candidate can result in that candidate getting more taxpayer money.” Says Bopp, “requiring people to effectively fund candidates they opposed simply by exercising their First Amendment rights is blatantly unconstitutional.”
The consolidated cases before the United States Supreme Court are Arizona Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett. Copies of the opinion are available in PDF online at the James Madison Center’s website, www.jamesmadisoncenter.org.