Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Coerced Funding of Political Speech

John Kramer
John Kramer · October 11, 2002

Phoenix, AZ—Dealing a severe setback to the First Amendment rights of every Arizona citizen, the Arizona Supreme Court today reversed a unanimous decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals that struck down the compulsory funding mechanism of the state’s so-called Clean Elections Act as a violation of the freedom of speech. Any time an Arizona citizen receives any civil or criminal fine, such as a parking ticket, a 10-percent surcharge is added to the fine for the Clean Elections Fund, which is then distributed to candidates for elective office.

“This is the first time a court has upheld the notion that one can be forced to give contributions to politicians,” declared Clint Bolick, vice president and national director of state chapters for the Institute for Justice. “This ruling cannot and will not stand.”

Perhaps knowing Arizonans would never pay for the political speech of politicians, drafters of the so-called “Clean” Elections Act included a dirty little secret: an involuntary source of funding. The Act was passed by a slender majority of Arizona voters in 1998, and the fine surcharges now constitute nearly two-thirds of all the money collected to fund political campaigns in Arizona.

“With state supreme courts in Vermont and Florida striking down similar compelled subsidies for political speech, this case is ripe for U.S. Supreme Court review,” said Tom Liddy, executive director of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter. “It is vital to free speech and political discourse that citizens be free to support the candidates of their choice—and free from being forced to support those they oppose.”

The Institute for Justice represents Steve May, an Arizona legislator who incurred a parking ticket, the proceeds of which are used to fund candidates he opposes.

“The First Amendment does not allow the government to force citizens to participate in the political process against their will,” declared May. “I am confident the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn this decision.”

An earlier ruling invalidated lobbyist fees for the same purpose. That ruling has not been appealed, and the Clean Elections Commission is refunding up to $400,000 in wrongfully collected lobbyist fees.