Arizona Campaign Finance (First Challenge)

Lavis v. Bayless

IJ Arizona Chapter Takes on Arizona's "Clean Elections Act" (First Challenge)

Arizona’s “campaign finance reform” forces some people to pay for other people’s political speech—speech with which the individual being taxed often disagrees.

Arizona’s Clean Elections Act, which could prove a harbinger for nationwide public campaign financing efforts, was enacted by a narrow majority of the Arizona electorate in November 1998.  The law creates a public financing system for candidates for state offices, accompanied by strict restrictions on campaign contribu-tions and funded partly by a state income tax credit for contri-butions to the fund.  But hidden among the fine print were two other coerced revenue sources:  fees imposed upon lobbyists (but only those who work for for-profit entities) and a surcharge on civil and criminal fines.  People who incur such costs are forced to subsidize the speech of others.

Whatever one thinks of various campaign finance reform proposals, coerced support of political campaigns strikes at the heart of our First Amendment freedoms.  Paramount among the protections of our Bill of Rights is the freedom to engage in political speech—or to refrain from doing so.  As Thomas Jefferson declared, “[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.”

In this lawsuit, IJ challenged provisions of the Arizona Clean Elections Act that compel some individuals, against their will, to pay for the political speech of others.  Ultimately, we were successful in striking down the lobbying fees, however, the surcharges on civil and criminal fines remain.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Challenging Coerced Subsidies for the Political Class: A First Amendment Lawsuit 

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Latest Release: U.S. Supreme Court Urged To Overturn Public Campaign Subsidies (January 9, 2003)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

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Launch Release: Citizens Forced to Fund Political Campaigns File Court Action Against Arizona's Public Funding Law (September 9, 1999)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:

April 13, 2001 (State Filing)


September 9, 1999 (Federal Filing, dismissed March 13, 2001)

Court Filed:

Superior Court for the State of Arizona, Maricopa County


March 13, 2001: Federal court dismissed, ruling it did not have jurisdiction because the fees amounted to a tax


October 11, 2002:  Arizona Supreme Court upholds program



Case Concluded

Additional Releases


Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Coerced Funding of Political Speech (October 11, 2002)


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Release: Institute for Justice Asks Arizona Supreme Court to Stop Disbursement of Illegally Collected Clean Elections Funds (June 24, 2002)


Release: “Clean Elections Act” Funding Declared Unconstitutional (June 18, 2002)



Release: Institute for Justice Denounces Move to Transfer Clean Elections Case To Arizona Supreme Court (April 26, 2002)



Release: Court of Appeals Grants Special Action Petition, Prompt Ruling Expected On Clean Election Act Validity (April 18, 2002)



Release: Arizona Supreme Court Denies Hearing on Clean Elections Act Lawsuit; Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter to Pursue Case in Appeals Court (March 21, 2002)

Release: Arizona Supreme Court Will Consider Petition Challenging Clean Elections Act (January 15, 2002)



Release: Challenge to Publicly Financed Elections Will Proceed in Arizona State Court (March 19, 2001)

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