Citizens Forced to Fund Political Campaigns File Court Action Against Arizona’s Public Funding Law

John Kramer
John Kramer · September 9, 1999

Washington, D.C.—A group of Arizona citizens will file a federal lawsuit today challenging Arizona’s “Citizens Clean Election Act.” The lawsuit, which could set vital free speech precedents, seeks to end coercive financing of publicly funded political campaigns, and challenging provisions of the Act that compel some individuals, against their will, to pay for the political speech of others.

“The dirty little secret underlying the so-called Clean Elections Act is that it forces certain citizens to subsidize politicians,” said Clint Bolick, litigation director of the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law center that represents the plaintiffs in the action. “Coerced support of political campaigns strikes at the heart of First Amendment freedoms.”

Enacted by a slender majority of the Arizona electorate in 1998, the Act creates a public financing system for state elections accompanied by strict restrictions on contributions and funded in part by a state income tax credit for contributions.

But hidden among the fine print are two coerced revenue sources: a surcharge on civil and criminal fines, including parking and speeding tickets, and a fee imposed on those who lobby on behalf of for-profit entities or trade associations, while other groups, such environmental groups and labor unions, are exempt from the fee. Citizens who incur such costs are forced to subsidize political speech, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Like many other citizens, Steve May received a parking ticket in June. However, he refused to pay the portion of the ticket that goes to finance the Clean Elections Fund. “I do not believe the State of Arizona can legally require me to fund political campaigns,” May said. May, in addition to being a businessman, is himself a state representative.

“While politicians have a constitutional right to free speech, I do not believe they have the right to make me pay for it,” May added. “Many politicians in this state espouse philosophies I find objectionable and I will not allow my hard earned money to fund offensive political campaigns.”

“At least at the federal level, individuals have a choice,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, referring to the check-off box on federal tax forms that ask taxpayers to give a donation to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. “The drafters of Arizona’s law must have recognized that citizens do not like to spend their tax dollars to support politicians, so they turned to coercion instead.”

At the federal level, support for the presidential election campaign fund is at an all-time low and funds are soon expected to run out. In 1997, only 12.5 percent of taxpayers agreed to contribute to the fund.

Also singled out for coercive funding in the Arizona Citizens Clean Election Act are lobbyists who represent for-profit entities.

“The lobbyist fee not only violates my free speech rights, it unconstitutionally discriminates against me based on the type of client I represent,” said plaintiff Tim Lawless, who lobbies on behalf of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. Lobbyists for non-profit organizations, such as environmental groups and the League of Women Voters, are exempt from paying the fee.

Also joining in the suit are Rick Lavis, who represents agricultural interests in the state and who is subject to the lobbyist fee, and Thomas Rice, who recently received a parking ticket from the City of Tempe and objects to a portion going to incumbents or political candidates.

The suit will be filed by the Institute for Justice, which represents its clients at no charge, in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in Phoenix. The defendants named in the suit are Arizona’s Secretary of State and the State Treasurer.

The Institute for Justice is a libertarian public interest law firm. Through strategic litigation, training, communications, and outreach, the Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals can control their own destinies as free and responsible members of society. It litigates to secure economic liberty, school choice, private property rights, freedom of speech, and other vital individual liberties, and to restore constitutional limits on the power of government. In addition, it trains law students, lawyers, and policy activists in the tactics of public interest litigation to advance individual rights. Through these activities the Institute challenges the ideology of the welfare state and illustrates and extends the benefits of freedom to those whose full enjoyment of liberty is denied by government. The Institute was founded in September 1991 by William Mellor and Clint Bolick.