Judge Delivers Blow To AZ ‘Clean Elections’ Scheme

December 1, 2008

IJ’s long-running First Amendment challenge to Arizona’s so-called “Clean Elections” law moved closer to success in October when a federal district judge found a key part of the scheme unconstitutional.

Relying on Davis v. FEC, a case the U.S. Supreme Court decided last term, Judge Roslyn O. Silver concluded that “matching funds” provided to taxpayer-funded candidates burden the speech of those who run on voluntary private donations.

With matching funds, publicly funded candidates receive more government funding to spend on their own speech when their privately supported opponents raise money above a certain limit. IJ client and state Rep. Rick Murphy faced three publicly funded opponents, so for every dollar he raised, the government doled out three to be spent against him. His best bet was to stay silent.

That is one way Arizona’s system suppresses speech and tilts the playing field toward candidates who run on taxpayer funds.

Although Judge Silver denied requests from IJ and the Goldwater Institute, which is also challenging the law, to halt matching funds in advance of this November’s general election, she indicated that the scheme is likely unconstitutional. That gives the candidates and the independent groups that IJ represents a great opportunity to put an end to Arizona’s system of taxpayer-funded elections once and for all.

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