By Tim Keller
In February, IJ’s Arizona and Washington chapter executive directors joined forces before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Arizona’s so-called “Clean” Elections Act is unconstitutional because it allows the state to enter the political debate, place its thumb on the scales and tip the balance in favor of taxpayer-financed candidates.
The argument was the culmination of a tremendous IJ team effort, with lawyers from each of IJ’s offices nationwide chipping in to hone our arguments. After a last-minute move by the State of Arizona to dismiss one of our legal claims, IJ-WA Executive Director Bill Maurer rose up to meet their challenge by drafting supplemental briefing, leaving me free to focus my arguments on the merits of the case. (An audio file of the oral argument is available at www.ca9.uscourts.gov, click on “Audio Files” and search for 05-15630.) The result was a persuasive presentation demonstrating that Arizona’s scheme of publicly financing elections suppresses political speech.
As Bill noted after we argued the case, it takes a lot of work to make oral argument go smoothly. IJ lawyers take every court appearance seriously because all of our cases hold the promise of advancing the cause of individual liberty. Preparing for oral argument can be as demanding as it is rewarding. Solomon’s proverbs say that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” IJ’s main tool for sharpening our arguments is the “moot court” in which IJ attorneys act as judges, hammering the attorney preparing to argue with difficult questions, then assisting in developing crisp, cogent responses. IJ’s preparation process arms our attorneys with cutting-edge constitutional arguments that have proven effective in carrying the day in court.
“Arizona’s so-called ‘Clean’ Elections Act allows the state to enter the political debate, place its thumb on the scales, and tip the balance in favor of taxpayer-financed candidates.”
Among the reasons IJ is challenging Arizona’s campaign finance control measure is because it allows the government to drown out the message of privately funded campaigns by doling out a dollar-for-dollar match to their opponents whenever someone (even without the privately funded candidate’s consent) promotes their candidacy. Arizona law also imposes onerous reporting requirements on privately funded candidates. A privately funded candidate may have to file up to 37 time-consuming reports on contributions during one election cycle, compared to only three such filings for publicly funded candidates. These reports trigger more funds to be immediately disbursed to the tax-funded candidate, thereby placing the entire burden on those who refuse taxpayer funds for their campaign.
In America, we once prized individuals who competed in the marketplace of ideas without the need for force or government financing. Today, however, through ever-increasing public finance schemes, the government hampers such individuality in politics. Arizona’s scheme financially favors candidates who accept public funds while harming those who accept only private, voluntary donations.
IJ’s Arizona and Washington chapters teamed up to do what our entire organization is dedicated to doing: halt government efforts to make decisions in our lives that we are best able to make for ourselves, including our decisions about political speech.
Tim Keller is executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter.